Rave : 2001 : Biting The Hand...

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Things are getting better at Marvel, the new movie is generating excitement among fans, the comics are getting great reviews, and Spider-Man seems to finally be pushing back into the limelight.

So what's the obvious next move? Serve legal notices on your sales base and shut down fan sites without due process?

Well, that's what the lawyers at Marvel seem to think is the way to proceed, or at least that's what the official story clearly implies.

The new "Marvel Line" on fansites has been released, and it doesn't take many prisoners. It seems strangely out of step with Joey Q's new fan-friendly attitude, and it seems even more bizarre given that Marvel is finally picking up after a long time in the doldrums.

Here's the guts of what it says. Brackets indicate my abridged version.

[If you want to display Marvel stuff on your site, then you need to sign their form and mail or fax it to Marvel. You will get access to their library of approved images.]

[Your site must bear the official logo, and must link to marvel.com on every page.]

[Marvel may force you to amend your site at any time without giving a reason.]

[Content deemed negative to Marvel is not permitted.]

"Sites that fail to accept the terms and conditions of the agreement will be reported to Marvel's legal department and your service provider will be requested to deny access to your site."

There are three parts that really concern me about the way the whole thing is presented:

  1. Content deemed negative to Marvel is not permitted, hence a review, article or editorial may not include balanced viewpoints.
  2. Marvel may force you to remove any component without justification, hence you effectively hand over control of your website.
  3. Marvel Lawyers will contact your ISP directly, they will not discuss your legal rights with you, or present a prima faciae case. You are not given the right to amend your site before being switched off.

But the worst part about all this is that it is self-destructive foolishness which does Spider-Man (or any Marvel Character) no good whatsoever. The only thing it does is put money in the pockets of lawyers.

(Of course, saying that is criticising a part of Marvel, which wouldn't be permitted if I had signed the agreement.)

Yes, Marvel has the absolute right to protect their legal property. Heck, Marvel has taken a financial battering, and I understand and respect their right to retain what is theirs. But I don't believe that putting out a policy like this is going to achieve what they intend it to.

This move is pointed at the very fans who are actively promoting Marvel, and who are buying Marvel product, and who generate the ongoing Marvel-hype which is an increasing feature of the Internet.

Many feared that the Internet would see the death of comics... that the availability of new media would replace the boring old paper things that people used to buy each month.

WRONG! The Internet, eBay, MileHighComics, fan pages, SpiderManHype.com, online comic reviews, have re-animated comic reading and comic trading for a new generation.

Marvel.Com is an cool site, and a very important site... but Spider-Man consumers know that they will only get part of the story from Marvel, and they look to fan sites, and comic review sites (like ours, and many others) for an independent opinion.

This unauthorised, informal, uncontrolled discussion helps to drive sales of good product in a way that a Corporatized, Sanitized Marvel.Com and Marvel.Commettes will never do.

Can Marvel not recognise the Symbiotic(tm) relationship that is going on here? Do they think that Ultimate Spider-Man became such a phenomena by word of mouth, or is there a chance that independent promotion and discussion on the Internet played a key part?

Furthermore, the policy statement is loaded with nasty possibilites, but the actual intention has not been made clear. What is the problem that Marvel are trying to fix. Where does it begin and end? What about Marvel comics covers on eBay? At MileHighComics? Are they no longer permitted?

Are Marvel lawyers going to call up AOL and have them close down little Joey's I Love Spidey page that says My Dad buys Spidey comics for me. Here is a picture of Spidey. He is my hero!.

Will they target SpidermanHype, which is generating the kind of excitement and promotion for the new movie that Marvel just can't create themselves? What about comic reviews sites? Wizard Magazine's website? What is the plan behind all this? Has anybody balanced the good and the bad on this sort of approach?

Marvel's contract does not point out your rights to free speech, and your rights to fair use. It doesn't say that Marvel will objectively look at your site to see that it meets acceptable legal use of their material in a review, satire, or valid fair use among fans framework. No, it says that they will tell your ISP to shut you down without even discussing the matter. Guys in shiny suits will write letters at $500 a pop and intimidate the Tripod and GeoCities webmasters.

Is that the most appropriate thing to threaten your fan base with? Remember, there's only 150,000 or so active Spidey comic buyers out there, and a very high proportion of those are Internet savvy teens. Imagine the bumper sticker... "I Surf... And I Buy Comics!".

When I first read Marvel's policy, I was angry, upset, worried. Now after reflection, I'm just sad. I'm sad that Marvel seems to be accidentally undoing some of the good that the Editorial and Staffing changes of the past year or two have done. I want Marvel to succeed and prosper. I really don't think this is helping.

I wonder what Uncle Ben would say about all this? Perhaps... "With great love of Spidey, comes great liability?"

[Ed - This whole thing seems to have faded to nothing. I'm not sure if the 'fan registration' system is officially still active, but the associated web-pages seems to have disappeared, and I've heard nothing more about it in a long time.]