Some Things Never Change…Except For The Worse: VDO Fan Follies on ebaY

So in getting back into the posting mode, I happened to visit the TheReelVincentD’OnofrioBlog (usually called ‘The ReelBlog’) and discovered that its owners are extremely upset because someone (probably a VDO ‘fangurl’ type) has made copies of most of their images (many of which at TheReel are, shall we say, less than fully authorized copies made by right clicking with one’s computer’s mouse on someone else’s online image and saving the image to one’s computer only to repost it later to one’s own blog/site) and then had the gall to burn them onto CDs which are then listed for sale on ebaY.

In a phone conversation with my best friend, he pointed out the irony of people who have made unauthorized copies being incensed when someone else makes another generation of unauthorized copies of *their* unauthorized copies.

Those who run fansites will argue that since they’re not selling the images or charging fans who want to access the site that it’s not really a big deal. So far the studios and TV networks and the celebrities themselves are looking the other way at these probable copyright violations, allowing the sites to keep going.

But that could change at anytime…and it probably will change, sooner rather than later…

In another post at the ReelBlog and also in a similar post at Elizabeth D’Onofrio’s (VDO’s sister) own blog, there is consternation at VDO ‘fans’ over their copying and reposting old D’Onofrio family photos which Ms. D’Onofrio herself originally uploaded to her own blog. I have not heard whether the candid D’Onofrio family snaps are being hawked on ebaY, but I understand they are appearing on other websites, without Ms. D’Onofrio’s permission.

Leaving aside Ms. D’Onofrio’s (probably mixed) motives for posting ‘private’ family photos in a public-accessible blog that is linked to her professional aspirations (and she has in the past endured some criticism over her indecision over how just how much she should discuss VDO while trying to more firmly establish and further her own distinct acting career), what is likely to happen is that many feelings are going to be further hurt and more ‘fan sites’ are going to be threatened with legal action and cease to exist. If this threatening is done either by or with the blessing of VDO, the retalliation could prove detrimental to any D’Onofrio family member’s acting careers — a great way to go out of business in a blaze of glory is to sue your best customers.

Will the threats and legal manuvering stop the ‘fangurls’ or the FeeBay profiteers? I doubt it. The images are already ‘out there’ and can be exchanged in a more underground fashion if circumstances force them to do so. Look at how peer to peer networks for media sharing have evolved, becoming ever more decentralized and their users just that much harder to hold accountable.

To me the interesting question is what does all this obsessive ‘fangurl’ digital image collecting do to the value of movie & TV memorabilia? Well it could make *tangible* representations of VDO’s image more valuable. If, for example I actually own an old-fashioned completely intact paper magazine (like a copy of the film journal Cahiers du Cinema with VDO as Pvt. Pyle on the cover) with an article about and images of VDO in it, the magazine itself cannot be taken from me via the kind of legal action Elizabeth D’Onofrio and TheReel are contemplating. And arguably I could make a digital image of the magazine in order to document it as something I own (say for an insurance inventory). I might also be able to discuss the magazine online, in a place like my own blog, and via fair use post an exerpt to further my criticism or academic discussion of the merits of the magazine.

On the other hand, once someone right clicks and copies my image, should I want to sell my magazine, I might not be able to do so if the digital image made by someone else damages the market for my magazine (it’s the old ‘why should I pay for your magazine when I can download a copy of the articles and images that interest me for free?’ argument). If the digital image is seen as a complete substitute for the paper magazine, there goes the value of the tangible things I have collected. Or it could be that while my magazine would be preferable to a digital image to a prospective magazine customer, the cost of my magazine is too high compared to the cost of the digital image. There are cases where one would be happy to own a reproduction given the cost of the authentic original, be it furniture, fine art or movie posters. That could still hurt the value of my collection but to a lesser degree.

Part of the problem for both Ms. D’Onofrio and TheReel is that they are not in the business of making money from their images. At least in Ms. D’Onofrio’s case, she does own the copyrights to her family photos. But sites like TheReel do not own the copyrights to most of what they post, in fact if they assert their rights, that could alert movie studios, TV networks, magazine publishers and other rights holders to TheReel’s infringement and leave the owners of TheReel in the awkward position of defending their own copymaking activities.

I guess that all of this discussion is really academic until some rights holder (for example, Ms. D’Onofrio or NBC-Universal) wants to get PAID for its images. To get to day 1 of a copyright trial can easily cost $100,000 for each side and to finally resolve an infringement case through litigation can often cost 5-10 times that sum for each side. So unless I’m seriously mistaken about Ms. D’Onofrio’s net worth, the likelihood of Ms. D’Onofrio suing all the infringers of the D’Onofrio family photos out of existance because of a general sense of outrage is lower than that of a multinational multibillion dollar corporation such as NBC-Universal suing infringers of LOCI images, that one day decides to boost share prices by capitalizing on an untapped part of the market for ‘branded television’ NBC-Uni has created. Plus the market for LOCI merchandise is likely to be greater than the market for vintage snapshots, even if some of them contain a now famous person. While it’s interesting to see what VDO looked like as a teenager, I seriously doubt that that image will have the value of an image more closely related to his career, so I wouldn’t bother trying to copy Ms. D’Onofrio’s snapshots

So I come to the conclusion that I see things first as a collector and value images based on their legitimacy, their tangibility, their provenance, and their relevance to established fields of collection that predate the World Wide Web. Then I look to the fannish part of collecting (aesthetic appeal, personal taste etc). A ‘fangurl’ wants an image in ANY form (actually she theoretically wants EVERY image possible) looking first to its personal (generally ‘sexual’) appeal and beyond that nothing else really matters (aside from it’s price tag). Digital image purveyors trade on that desire and that ignorance and since there is so little knowledge of VDO among those who deal in authentic original memorabilia, it is no wonder to me that what seems so lucrative is nothing more than duping the clueless into buying pirated goods.

The day that NBC-Uni realizes it can make money from LOCI ephemera will cause a revolution among VDO fansites and only then will heads roll at fansites and on FeeBay.

Meanwhile I intend for this blog to survive the bloodbath. So any pictures I post here will be of tangible items I own with appropriate attribution. To those who might copy the images, especially with an eye to making money I say you’ve been warned and I wish you luck in dealing with a multinational media conglomerate because you’ll need it.

And I hope the owners of TheReel and Ms. D’Onofrio get past their anger and indignation. When copies can be made at no cost, they can and will get made ad nauseum. It’s just the downside to web publishing.

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