Monday, October 23, 2017

Stop stealing Dark Shadows, goddammit

There's an old theory among STAR TREK fans about how the show's transporters work.

STAR TREK fans have theories about everything, from the origins of the Kobayashi Maru training exercise to whether or not Spock was joking when he implied that he's a descendant of Sherlock Holmes. Among the grimmest of fan speculations is that the transporters are murder machines, devices that permanently disintegrate its users, converting them to a series of "1s" and "0s" and using their raw matter to create "new" versions of people at the destination point. This would mean that Kirk, Spock and anyone else dumb enough to step into a transporter essentially ceased to exist a long, long time ago ... possibly even before the start of the series.

This theory might feel at home in a series as relentlessly nihilistic as RICK AND MORTY, but has never found a steady perch in STAR TREK fandom. We're just too optimistic. What's the point in following the adventures of replicants, characters with no past and no future, devoid of soul, agency or even the most casual definition of "identity"? Is everything in the universe up for grabs?

If you spend enough time on the Internet, the answer to that question increasingly becomes "Yes." The very meaning of "identity" has mutated in recent years to take more sinister shapes. Not too long ago, people mostly worried about having personal information leak online because a theft of your identity would hurt your credit standing or bank account. Today, we have to worry about the disgusting new practice of "digital kidnapping," a phenomenon where people will steal the images of children from online to "role-play" parenting. It's even creepier than it sounds.

So yes, it appears that morals disappear into a void whenever something is converted to binary code. Books. Movies. Financial information. A parent's love. If it can be broken down, transmitted digitally and delivered to a computer, that's enough to strip anything of provenance. If it's on your computer or smartphone, it now belongs to you. After all, it's just a copy of a thing, and not the thing itself ... right?

The Internet has turned into a large-scale psychological experiment, but one without restrictions or controls. If the old saying "You are who you are in the dark" is true, the Internet has turned off the lights worldwide, leaving us all to rise to our better selves. A lot of people are failing this test spectacularly.

A few weeks ago, a DARK SHADOWS "fan" shared an interesting link on Facebook to the Internet Archive, a website devoted notionally to the idea of preserving public domain media. Naturally, when the door is opened to share anything, someone is going to take advantage of the situation. Among the transcriptions of such work as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and the complete works of William Shakespeare are all 1,225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS. I don't need to tell you that DARK SHADOWS is not in the public domain.

At least, I shouldn't need to tell you that. But the data attached to these episodes show that thousands of people have viewed these files. People that would probably tell you they "love" DARK SHADOWS. And love, for them, apparently equals entitlement. They're fans, so why should they have to pay?

Archiving and preserving a massive show like DARK SHADOWS has taken decades to accomplish.  For context, STAR TREK, a series with about 67 total hours of original content, went into syndication quickly because it was compact and appealed to the right demographics. DARK SHADOWS was not so easy to program after its demise in 1971. With more than 400 hours of episodes, the rights holders had to fight for decades to keep the series in the public consciousness, and their successes have been measured in increments. When the New Jersey Network began airing DARK SHADOWS in 1983, it had just 510 episodes available in its catalog. “New” episodes were added as the series progressed: By the time it was cancelled in 1986, it had bulked up its catalog to include the first appearance of Barnabas Collins until the start of the “Parallel Time” storyline.

DARK SHADOWS would not appear on television again in its entirety until it arrived on The Sci-Fi Channel in 1992, more than 20 years after it was cancelled by ABC. Hundreds of these episodes had not been seen since their original broadcast.

Regardless of what you might think about it, the 2012 Tim Burton movie adaption provided a marvelous opportunity for fans of the original series. MPI Home Video had been slowly bringing DARK SHADOWS to video since 1989, first on VHS and then DVD. Because if the cultish nature of the show, it took years for the entire series to find its way to video. This work culminated in 2012 (thanks to the visibility of Burton's movie) with the ostentatious "coffin box," a complete collection of DARK SHADOWS episodes, interviews and bonus features in one package. In 2012, it was easier than ever to see DARK SHADOWS. A variety of video products were available to fit just about any level of interest.

Those barriers fell even further in 2017 when Amazon and Hulu added hundreds of episodes of the show to their streaming services. A series that was once completely inaccessible to viewers is now available everywhere, from your Roku to the neighborhood public library. If you use the Hoopla app, you can even check out episodes from the library without leaving your home.

And still, that's not enough for some people. The Internet Archive site is far from the only example of people giving DARK SHADOWS away to "fans." A few years ago someone created their own website for "classic television" and posted streaming versions of every episode of SHADOWS, along with other copyrighted programs ... and then had the balls to include a "tip jar" link so that you could reward them for their efforts. There's another website now online that's repeating this effort, right down to including a Paypal link so that fans can contribute to the website's "upkeep." Sigh.

Look, we've all spent too much time on the Internet in recent years. When you spend your days arguing politics with strangers, watching videos of cats breaking shit, and defending yourself from phishing scams, reality has a way of becoming whatever you need it to be. If you've lost your way, let me remind you that stealing DARK SHADOWS episodes is only hurting the cause. It's never been a series with a massive marketing budget, and its cultural presence has largely been kept aloft by devoted fans. But some of those fans have decided they've invested so much time and money into DARK SHADOWS  that they now have an entitlement to it ... as if fandom is one, big utility cooperative. They've become resentful, even combative, because they're beginning to realize they've been making payments on something they're never going to own. It's like an origin story for the world's most pathetic supervillain.

The mental calisthenics it takes to equate these two paths is as astounding as it is obtuse. It took decades for MPI to make DARK SHADOWS available to the masses. It takes a "fan" only a few hours to upload the entire series to the Internet for "sharing." The people sharing these files have reached the astounding conclusion that these efforts are analogous. That the folks who have spent the last 40 years trying to get people to watch DARK SHADOWS are also somehow responsible for erecting the "insurmountable" obstacle of expecting audiences to pay for their product. It's like standing outside a chocolate factory and giving away chocolate to make a point about how much you love candy. Before long, the factory will close its doors and there will be no candy for anybody.

And that's the real problem, isn't it? DARK SHADOWS isn't being pirated by people who hate the show. It's being pirated by people who love it. And how do you protect a product when you're in direct competition with your most passionate fans? This is a problem that's going to resolve itself in one of two ways. Fandom will have to correct its own course. Or, when there ceases to be a financial motivation for the property's actual owners to take an interest in it, DARK SHADOWS will go away forever.

Choose wisely.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...