Marvel Comics seeks to authorize fan sites, Yahoo! Geocities wrongly shuts down Marvel sites

[Marvel . Com]The days of the wild and free Internet are over. Sort of.

Back in July Marvel Comics began e-mailing Marvel Comics fan site Webmasters about a new program Marvel was instituting, Marvel Authorized Fan Site Program. The program asked Marvel fan site owners to register their Web site with Marvel Comics and to include certain links, graphics and copyright notices on their Web pages. According to the Web page the idea behind this directive is to protect Marvel's "valuable assets while allowing our fans to continue to use certain of our copyrighted and trademarked materials on their Web sites." At the same time Marvel would open up its graphics library to Web site owners to access high quality images for inclusion on their Web site, plus Marvel would spotlight a "fan site of the month" on their Web site, undoubtedly generating lots of traffic for the chosen fan site. Fan reaction to this directive has been mixed and mostly negative.

Today things took a bizarre turn when Yahoo! GeoCities, the free Web hosting service currently home to many hundreds of Marvel comics fan sites, began shutting down Web sites dedicated to Marvel characters. Marvel comics did send Yahoo! Geocities a courtesy letter stating their intention to contact some of their members about unauthorized use of Marvel material, but Marvel was not asking Yahoo! Geocities to shut down any Marvel associated Web sites.

"Marvel is trying to contact Yahoo! GeoCities to rectify this misunderstanding and hopefully have any wiped sites restored," Deborah Krier, Executive Assistant to the CIO of Marvel Enterprises and an administrator for the Authorized Fan Site Program, told CBR News Friday. "Because Marvel is in the process of talking with Yahoo! GeoCities, we are unable to comment further at this time."

In a post on CBR's Marvel Comics Message Board Krier was careful to note Marvel Comics did not ask for this action to be taken by Yahoo! Geocities and apologized for the inconvenience this caused fan site Webmasters. Calls and e-mail to Yahoo! Geocities for comment by CBR News went unanswered Friday.

Corporate protection of trademarks online has generated some bad blood between fans and copyright holders in the past. A few years ago Fox Television took aggressive action against "X-Files" fan sites, sending site owners cease and desist letters, asking them to shut down immediately. Similar letters were sent to fan sites for the television program "Millennium" and Paramount Television has done the same with a handful of "Star Trek" web sites. Back in 1999 DC Comics cracked down on a handful of Web sites as well.

This is the first Marvel fans have heard The House of Ideas taking part in this sort of online protection of its characters. Some fan sites have shut their doors voluntarily in protest, finding the request from Marvel to be inappropriate. It should be noted Marvel has not yet asked any Fan sites to shut down and it doesn't appear to be their immediate intention.

"There are some truly amazing Web sites out there, quite a few of which Marvel employees use as resources ourselves," continued Krier. "We are both proud and honored that so many people have dedicated their time and resources to show their appreciation of the Marvel Universe.

"It is because we value our fans so highly that we have come up with the Authorized Fan Site Program. As a corporation, Marvel *must* actively enforce and defend our intellectual property rights. This is a reality of the business and legal worlds. While Marvel knows that our fans mean us no harm by displaying Marvel characters on their Web sites, a court of law could hold Marvel responsible for knowingly allowing rampant unauthorized use of its copyrighted and trademarked materials, making it harder for Marvel to enforce its rights under the law where it really matters to us."

Krier also detailed how membership in the Authorized Fan Site Program protects fan Web site owners from consequences such as having to shut down their sites.

"By signing up for the Authorized Fan Site Program, fan site owners allow Marvel to authorize their use of Marvel's materials, thereby allowing Marvel to avoid compromising its rights under the law without having to shut down these sites. We really don't want to shut down sites, and we certainly would not request any fan site be shut down by an ISP without Marvel first trying to contact the fan site operator."

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