Saturday was a bad day for fan fiction and opponents of the Malaysian government.
United -- perhaps for the first time in history -- by Tripod, a free site-hosting service owned by Lycos, hundreds of sites, including as many as 11 anti-Malaysian government groups and scores of pro-"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fan sites, were shut down without notice.
"Darcy's Phillip Seymour Hoffman" page was axed, as was "You can't do that on Star Trek!" The Malaysian opposition site Mahafiraun is no longer working, nor is Minda Rakyat, another Malaysian protest site.
Some of the deletions were accidental but others were not, says Dori Allman, a Lycos spokesperson. "We were in the process of removing sites that were in clear violation of our terms of service and, inadvertently, there were other sites which were also removed and should not have been." Allman wouldn't be specific about why Lycos had shuttered the sites, saying only that "the sites that were removed on purpose were in some way in violation of our terms of service."
Aggrieved Tripod community members say, however, that the real problem isn't Tripod's technical glitch -- it's Tripod's terms of service. As one fan site manager who calls herself Nestra says, "The problem is that the terms of service agreements are intentionally worded very broadly to allow Tripod/Lycos to delete anything they feel like." Add to that the site's policy of giving no advance notice to managers of violating sites, and the result is not quite the egalitarian community that companies like Lycos and Geocities boast of.
Writers of fan fiction -- the practice of penning unofficial scripts and stories based on commercially copyrighted characters -- have had to deal with accusations of intellectual property violations before. One fan site manager, Bridget O'Donohue, says that the deletion of fan sites is a huge problem. "The Web is where a lot of us get together to display and share our love for particular fandoms. When [the sites] are unceremoniously destroyed, well, it leads to large amounts of resentment and makes it difficult to share our mutual admiration for a fandom."
Copyright violations are probably the explanation for some of the fan site deletions. But what to make of the sudden demise of the Malaysian opposition sites? While Allman did say that Tripod has had no direct communication with the Malaysian government on the issue, she refused comment on whether the political sites were shut down intentionally.
Malaysian site readers have been lobbying Lycos executive chairman Joachim Agut for an explanation since Saturday, and still don't know what's going on. "It is believed that the government will be communicating with many more Web site operators or hosts in an attempt to close down all the anti-government Web sites," read one letter from an opposition group to Agut. "We write this letter to appeal to you not to buckle under the Malaysian government's pressure."
One Malaysian protest site frequenter, Anoop Krishnan, says that the Malaysian government has long been critical of these sites. "The government had made it clear in the official government-owned newspapers that these Web sites -- which were the only source of real news -- were the work of 'subversive' elements and had to be shut down."
But at Lycos, mum continues to be the word. All Allman would say is that the managers of sites that were deleted as a result of the company's "technical difficulty" will get a personal e-mail from the company by the end of the week, and their sites will be reinstated soon.