In common with many fan groupings, Doctor Who fans appear to have a very liberal understanding of UK and international copyright laws.
Visit most Doctor Who sites and you’ll be greeted with a combination of copyright images, sound clips, text and video grabs, all displayed without permission from the BBC.
Some site owners attempt to justify these breaches of copyright with a disclaimer that the site is “non commercial” seeming to believe that this mitigates their unauthorised presence on the site.
For the most part the BBC seem to have adopted a very tolerant stance with the only rumoured action on their part being against sites and E-Bay auctions offering high quality files containing episodes and/or elements produced specifically for their DVD releases.
Offline, Who fans have long traded multi-generation copies of episodes. Only the commercial availability of high quality VHS and DVD releases killed off that activity.
The imminent airing of the new series of Doctor raises the prospect of a revival in the trading in new episodes of the series. Whereas the ‘tape swappers’ of yesterday were largely restricted by geographical constraints and poor quality, multi generation copies file swappers in the digital broadband era have no such limitations.
Recent postings on web forums and newsgroups show that, within hours of the series premiering on BBC1 someone will have uploaded high quality copies to P2P networks.
Any delays in broadcasting the show in countries such as Australia and the US, both home to relatively large groups of fans, will increase demand for illicit copies.
As high profile campaigns in the UK and US have shown many file swappers simply refuse to accept that their actions are wrong. All manner of justifications are offered; one US fan recently attempted to justify their intent to obtain unauthorised copies with the statement that “no-one’s going to loose money” from it and therefore it was ok. They went on to brand protests against such action “as just down right petty”.
Given the well known decline in CD and DVD sales attributed to online file swapping it is lucky that the BBC aren’t likely to base the future of the show (or it’s quite large budget) on commercial receipts from spin-off merchandise.
It’s just a shame that the ‘fans’ prepared to engage in such activities have so little regard for the law and precious little understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.