Copyright Protection or Fan Loyalty—Must Entertainment Companies Choose? Alternate Solutions for Addressing Internet Fan Sites

June 16, 2012

Imagine you’re an attorney for an entertainment company and one of your job responsibilities is to protect your company’s copyrights. The company has, among other valuable properties, a top-rated television series. You discover someone is making unauthorized use of copyrighted images and sound clips from the hit show. Following standard procedure, you send out a cease-and-desist letter to the infringing party. The letter is effective and the person discontinues use of the material. Another job well done? Maybe not.
The infringement was on the Internet, and the infringer was a fan site owner. Although the fan complied with the demands of your letter and shut her site down, she has spread the word via the Internet to other fans about her unfair treatment. They form a large group of angry fans that plan an organized protest and a boycott of the show. Acting within your legal rights has cost the entertainment company something critical to its continued success: fan support.
The public nature of the Internet creates unique problems in copyright enforcement. There are, however, practical solutions to the dilemma faced by entertainment companies who want to retain the loyalty of fans while protecting their valuable copyrights.
This Comment will discuss those effective alternate solutions within the bounds of existing copyright law. First it will discuss the copyright law’s relevance to Internet fan sites and set the framework for a discussion of enforcement options available to entertainment companies. Next, it will explore the merits and disadvantages of the traditional approach used by entertainment companies to enforce their copyrights against infringing uses on the Internet. Finally, it will examine in detail two unique model approaches with varying degrees of control by the copyright owners. Either of these model approaches may be used with success by entertainment companies to balance the need for continued fan support with the protection of copyrights.