Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Copyright - AMC versus The Spoiling Dead Fans

     AMC, the television station, has a hit show called The Walking Dead that just wrapped up its sixth season with a cliffhanger.  And, the show has a devoted fan base, including The Spoiling Dead Fans (TSDF), who can be found at their website, on Facebook, on Tumblr.

     As their name suggests, TSDF is a group of fans that "love this show so much we always want to know what's going to happen and speculate on all those possibilities. Our spoilers are intended only for fans that seek them out to enhance their own viewing experience."  See Facebook post.

     On June 7th, AMC sent TSDF a cease and desist letter stating:
AMC is aware that The Spoiling Dead Fans site is promoting your claims that you have received copyright protected, trade secret information about the most critical plot information in the unreleased next season of The Walking Dead. You also state that you plan to distribute this purported highly confidential information despite your knowledge that such distribution, if the information is indeed accurate, is unauthorized and will greatly damage AMC, distributors of The Walking Dead as well as Walking Dead fans awaiting the new seasons' release who wish to watch their favorite show unspoiled.
Copy of letter.  This letter was aimed at TSDF's work to identify the person who was killed in the season six cliffhanger by Negan with Lucille, his barb wire covered bat.  See Facebook post

     The letter then raises copyright law claims:
The release of plot summaries and particularly the types of crucial plot elements that you have stated you intend to release, have been found to constitute copyright infringement. Specifically, in Twin Peaks Productions vs. Publications International, [996. F.2d 1366 (2nd Cir. 1993)] the Court ruled that publishing a work that ‘recount[s] for its readers precisely the plot details’ of a fictional work constitutes copyright infringement.
Copy of letter. The applicability of the Twin Peaks case holding is suspect because there are substantial factual differences between the Twin Peaks case which concerned summaries of released episodes and the release of a spoiler about a future event.  See TorrentFreak post.

     As noted by TSDF, AMC failed to identify where those fly-in-face-of-reason claims were made.  The lack of identification raising the specter that this letter was sent without a proper cause and solely for the purpose of intimidating TSDF.

     We won't know whether those claims were true because the letter had its intended effect:  TSDF won't reveal who it believes was killed by Lucille.  TSDF made this announcement after deciding that they don't have the resources to fight AMC should AMC sue.

     The letter will have some unintended effects too.  Much like Barbara Streisand, by shutting down TSDF from releasing to its prediction about who was killed by Lucille, AMC has focused more attention on it.  It also raises the question of how content owners should interact with their fans.  Was a cease and desist letter the best way for AMC to contact TSDF about spoilers?

- Henry Park

6/16 substantially revised

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