Images & Copyright

Copyright Law

In general the use of images and sounds from STAR WARS in personal unlicensed web sites is a violation of copyright. Most STAR WARS web sites have no protection should Lucasfilm ever choose to sue or demand closure. Although Lucasfilm has taken a tolerant stance so far, their rights are undiminished and their policies could undergo dramatic change without warning, just as happened with other important science-fiction film companies in recent months. The world of STAR WARS is rapidly changing due to the release of the Special Edition films and the ongoing production of the prequel trilogy. Merchandising is booming and this intense commericialism will place new pressures on Lucasfilm which may affect the way in which they choose to defend their intellectual property. In the end Lucasfilm have an obligation to take action to protect their copyrights; otherwise their ownership of STAR WARS lapses.

The only security available to webmasters of STAR WARS sites is refuge under the Fair Usage or Fair Dealing terms of copyright law. In brief, this permits the use of pieces of a copyright work for the sake of education, scholarly analysis or criticism. Web pages using STAR WARS material must fall into one of these catagories if they are to fall under Fair Usage protection. Pages which are merely entertainment or expressions of devotion are not defensible under Fair Usage terms. The usage must be entirely non-commercial, which presumably excludes: the use of advertising banners in the web page; the sale of material; or links to commerical web pages. The usage must not damage the commericial interests of the copyright holder. This can include even very subtle forms of damage; in the past, copyright holders have successfully sued the authors of parodies of their work. The usage must not amount to a substantial portion of the copyright work. Lucasfilm can sue any site which (for instance) exhibits a complete transcription of a story from one of the Bantam STAR WARS anthologies.

Virtually all unlicensed STAR WARS web sites today fail at least one of these necessary tests.

Among the worst offenders are those sites which feature large galleries of images or sound files. Pictures in a web site must be justified by their use in a serious topical discussion, like a newspaper article or a scholarly publication. Without the format of some kind of overall dielectic or commentary the pages are in violation of copyright. The discussion is what justifies the usage of the pictures. You cannot simply stick a bunch of images online accompanied by short comments. There must be an identifiable theme of discussion and the pictures should only be used as mere illustrations to your text.

I have well over a thousand STAR WARS image files. Many of them are online in this web site. There was a time when I displayed several hundred of them in a large image gallery page. That page had a lot more thematic discussion than most comparable pages around the Web, but it was miscellaneous in essence. I have removed my gallery page in order to keep within the spirit and the letter of copyright law, thus hopefully making my site invulnerable to any threats or closure requests that the owners of STAR WARS might otherwise justifiably make. This is also a sincere gesture of respect for the fact of their ownership. It is important that artists (including the people at Lucasfilm who bring us the marvellous film saga) have unchallenged control over their intellectual property.

So to any other web authors who may be reading this message I recommend in the strongest possible terms: Restructure your web pages so that they conform to the spirit and terms of Fair Usage. This ultimately is the only way to protect your site against closure or lawsuit.The STAR WARS universe and associated images and sounds are not in the public domain.

Plagiarism and Poaching.

The InterNet is a great medium for personal expression and many of the greatest cultural assets of our age are found on the World Wide Web, written by enthusiasts in a spirit of celebration and made available to the world at virtually no cost.

Unfortunately this leads many people to assume that everything on the WWW is free or without ownership. Selfish and unscrupulous individuals copy files from original web pages for use in rival `copycat' sites. Other web authors who are less malevolent but equally disrespectful tend to steal interesting images for incorporation in their own pages.

The result is that the Web is awash with cheap and unoriginal web sites. Ready availability of stolen images means that it doesn't take much effort to compose something which looks like a STAR WARS web page, but the authors therefore feel little impetus to plan the site structure and content. The toils of the original authors are robbed and exploited, and the general quality of the Web is diminished. Even the original site looks lame if its key images are visible elsewhere; there is no immediate way to tell which is the good site and which are poachers' pages. Everyone ends up looking like a crude and intellectually dishonest thief.

I have more than a thousand STAR WARS images ready for use in this web site. None were stolen from any other web site. All were scanned or digitised by me or by colleagues acting on my behalf. All were painstakingly generated, cleaned and edited exclusively for use in this web site. Credit is given for files created and provided with the assistance of others. Every image was obtained in order to illustrate a particular point of technical discussion. Each image represents at least an hour's worth of work in acquisition, editing, cataloguing and integration into the appropriate web pages.

Therefore I only accede to requests for donation of images to other web authors under the most extraordinary circumstances. Just as STAR WARS belongs to Lucasfilm, the effort involved in preparing these particular files and these particular forms of the images makes them mine (to the extent that my usage falls under Fair Usage terms). So too is the content and form of expression of my web pages. I will treat all instances of plagiarism, poaching and copyright violation with great seriousness.

If you believe that you have a good idea for a web page and you are too needy or lack the resources to illustrate it I still might be keen to help you. I may scan or digitise entirely new images and donate them to you, if you can convince me that your site will be at least marginally covered by the Fair Usage terms of copyright law (explained in above). Otherwise if you have images which are valuable to me and useful for my site I may be happy to negotiate an exchange. I cannot make any promises regarding prompt response to requests and proposals, but I am interested in encouraging STAR WARS web authors who plan to write something original.

My basic advice to other web masters is this: Don't steal. Poaching from other web pages hurts people who go to a lot of selfless trouble to put new resources on the Web, and the use of old images makes your site look jaded and tawny. If you genuinely want to create a STAR WARS site then investing the time and effort of digitising and scanning your own images is well worthwhile. Avoid the temptation to parasitise others. At best, succumbing to the habit of poaching damages your personality (and "what goes around comes around"). At worst, an offended web master may actually sue you for breach of copyright.

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Original content is © copyright Dr Curtis Saxton 1997.
Last updated January 18, 1997.

This page was constructed and is maintained by Curtis Saxton.
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