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Where no lawyer has gone before:
the Star Trek copyright battle

The Official October 29, 1997
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EST (2120 GMT)

(CNN) -- There are countless Web sites devoted to the science fiction phenomenon "Star Trek," but only one of them is official. Therein lies the basis of a copyright battle being fought in the final frontier.

The official site, Star Trek Continuum, is open to everyone, but to see all of it, you have to join the Microsoft Network, which requires a monthly fee. The MSN membership requirement protects the "Star Trek" franchise, says Paramount, the movie studio that owns film rights based on the original "Star Trek," a 1966-69 television series, and the subsequent series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which debuted in 1987.

"The 'Star Trek' world is full of rumor, and a lot of it is unsubstantiated," says David Wertheimer, president of Paramount Digital Entertainment. "So what we try and do is give people the source to get live, up-to-the minute information on what's going on in the 'Star Trek' universe and bring the fans closer to the show."

Star Trek:  WWW

But thousands of those loyal fans have created their own Internet sites devoted to Star Trek. Paramount and its subsidiary Viacom say many of them illegally contain copyrighted material.

Star Trek: WWW is one of the most comprehensive and popular fan sites. Its creator, Italian Webmaster Luca Sambucci, discovered a number of site developers were getting letters from a Paramount/Viacom lawyer saying their sites were in violation of copyright laws.

Sambucci responded by forming OFF, the Online Freedom Federation. "If you have a 'Star Trek' Web site, and somebody asks you to take off all the 'Star Trek' material you have, this means you have to shut down your Web site," he told CNN.

"We're willing to do whatever it takes to protect the franchise," says Wertheimer, who posted an open letter to fans on the official "Star Trek" Web site.


Paramount and Viacom say their stand is something they owe to "Star Trek" fans. But OFF volunteer legal counsel John Pisa-Relli believes the studio risks losing fan loyalty "by not permitting fans to make what we believe is a fair use of certain copyrighted materials on their home page."

OFF has an online a petition with more than 10,000 signatures that will soon be submitted to Paramount/Viacom asking for concessions.

Meanwhile, if you want to see more of what's out there, visit Webring and do a "Star Trek" search. You'll find rings of linked sites full of Trekker lore.


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