On July 11, 2000, Outpost Daria was forced off the web for almost two weeks. The sequence of events you are about to read is not too terribly long, but it does make for interesting reading. It's a classic case of incompetence meeting corporate ass-covering, and how one innocent web site and its patrons were caught in the middle.
Day 1 - Tuesday, July 11
I received a message from Yahoo! Website Services (formerly SimpleNet) informing me that my web account had been suspended for Terms of Service violations. Specifically, the violations were in the area of "copyright and trademark infringement," and the name and contact information for someone at the MTV Networks legal department was given.
My immediate reaction was that the situation seemed fishy, even from day one. To receive a cease-and-desist message from Yahoo! and not MTV was strange, to say the least. If MTV was indeed involved, why hadn't I heard from them as well?
I immediately posted a message on The Paperpusher's Site message board, informing the readers there of the situation (I also cross-posted the message to the alt.tv.daria Usenet newsgroup for maximum coverage). I made sure to indicate that, at the time, I didn't know exactly who was behind it, and not to jump to any rash conclusions.
So, of course, everyone went stark raving nuts. :-)
Day 2 - Wednesday, July 12
After removing what I thought were all the files from my webspace, I contacted Yahoo! via e-mail and asked that my account be reinstated, as all files that could infringe on the TOS were removed (or so I thought). A few hours after the e-mail was sent, Yahoo! responded that there were still files present that violated the TOS, and that the webspace would not be reinstated until they were removed.
Checking the site, I discovered that there indeed were some files present that would present a problem (I had forgotten them since they were not in the Outpost Daria main directory). I removed those files, as well as the entire BBS message directory for good measure; my webspace was now completely and totally empty. I fired off another e-mail to Yahoo!, but did not hear back that day.
More outpourings of support came in via e-mail and Paperpusher's message board; did I really touch that many people with Outpost Daria? In IRC chat, discussion veered between the newly aired episode ("Legends of the Mall") and the Outpost Daria situation, which all concerned had come to believe had been "Foxed" by MTV. ("Foxing" means to shut down fan-related web sites; the term is derived from the actions of 20th Century Fox, the first company to clamp down hard and heavy on fan sites. Sites devoted to The X-Files, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were made practically extinct by Fox's actions.)
A small beacon of light had appeared on the horizon, however. Michelle Klein-Häss (of the Lawndale Commons fan site) indicated that "things were going on behind the scenes at MTV," and that a solution might be presenting itself soon. What that solution would be was, at the time, anyone's guess.
Day 3 - Thursday, July 13
No progress on the Yahoo! front, as my e-mail continued to be ignored. Still no cease-and-desist letter from MTV, which further increased my suspicions.
Then, an interesting development. That morning, I received an e-mail message in my private e-mail account (which I monitor from work) from someone at MTV who wishes to remain anonymous; hence, I shall refer to this person as "Deep Throat." (Real original, eh?) Deep Throat asked me for a phone number where I could be reached; I supplied my home telephone number and the best times to reach me. Deep Throat responded back later in the day, informing me that he (or she; that's a secret, too) would be contacting me the next day after 6:00pm EDT.
A breakthrough? Perhaps. I relayed this info to the fans on the message board, in alt.tv.daria, and in IRC chat. At this point, things were starting to get out of hand, with MTV in serious danger of being looted and pillaged by angry Daria fans. :-) I pleaded once again for people to hold off, to wait until I spoke with Deep Throat to get their side of the story once and for all. I didn't stop the outpourings of support; hey, I was depressed, I needed some cheering up. :-)
Day 4 - Friday, July 14
Still no response from Yahoo!. I fired off another letter, asking pointedly that my webspace be reinstated, but by then I wasn't hopeful that I'd ever receive a reply.
That evening, at about 6:20pm EDT, I received a call from Deep Throat. After a few moments of greetings, we got down to business. Deep Throat -- who, as it turned out, was a member of the Daria production staff -- confirmed what I had suspected all along: Outpost Daria was NOT intentionally Foxed by MTV. In fact, the Daria staff considered Outpost Daria (and most fan sites) to be some of the best advertising the show could ever have (as Virginia Postrel pointed out in "The Shortsighted Site Busters" in the July 24, 2000 issue of Forbes magazine).
So, what exactly happened that caused Yahoo! to shut Outpost Daria down? This is where the "incompetence" I spoke of comes in. :-)
From what I gather, the folks in MTV's legal department check up on fan sites from time to time, to ensure that they don't have content that's considered over the line (such as video and audio clips). If they find such a site, they send a letter to both the webmaster and the hosting service, asking that the site remove the offending material or shut down completely. This happened early in 2000 with The Sounds of Cynicism, which contained both audio clips and entire Daria episodes in RealVideo format. (Given the paranoia that most web hosting services operate under, however, most sites don't get the chance to bring themselves into compliance; they simply get shut down. Either that, or they're so intimidated that they close down rather than fight back.)
The difference in the case of The Sounds of Cynicism was that its webmaster had received a letter from MTV Legal; I, however, had not. So why did Outpost Daria get shut down? Apparently, some overzealous soul got the impression that Outpost Daria had video clips online (it didn't; the closest it came was WAV and MP3 files of the Daria theme song), so a letter was drafted and immediately fired off to Yahoo!. That was the mistake: the letter had been sent before getting approval. By the time the letter was made known -- and squashed, as the Daria staff knew that Outpost Daria was harmless -- the damage was already done. (Hence the "corporate ass-covering" on the part of Yahoo!.)
Deep Throat apologized for the trouble that all of this had caused me, and said that they would continue to work behind the scenes to see if things could be ironed out with Yahoo!. (Unfortunately, a "we made a mistake" letter would not be forthcoming, as it would weaken MTV's position in the future should it need to truly Fox a site.) He said, however, that if I could find a new web space provider, Outpost Daria could go back on the air immediately, and the situation would essentially be resolved. I told him that I would look into it, but asked him to continue the behind-the-scenes work regardless. He said that he would once again be in touch, on the following Monday or Tuesday.
Day 5 - Saturday, July 15
Still no word from Yahoo!, which is no surprise. It all but made the decision for me to seek out another webspace provider. Thus, the search began... ironically, using Yahoo!'s own resources. :-)
Day 8 - Tuesday, July 18
After a weekend of research, I settled on American Web Hosting, which offered a ton of features for a very reasonable monthly price. I even got a new domain name: outpost-daria.com! After AmWeb confirmed my new account, I logged into Yahoo! Website Services for the last time and deleted my Yahoo! account.
That evening, I began preparations to put Outpost Daria back online (it could not go online that night, as the new domain name had yet to be propagated to the entire DNS server network).
Day 9 - Wednesday, July 19
I had yet to receive a call from Deep Throat, but I wasn't too overly concerned. The Daria production staff was undoubtedly hard at work on the season five episodes, and besides, I got what I wanted with a new webspace provider.
That evening, I began the process of FTPing the Outpost Daria files to the new webspace. Thanks to my DSL connection, it went remarkably fast. :-) Some items would not be available right away -- the message board, and various submission forms -- due to the absence of MIVA. However, the availability of CGI-BIN would more than make up for it eventually. Also, the sound files for the Daria theme song were removed as an "anti-Foxing" measure. By the end of the night, everything except the home page and this page were ready to go.
Day 11 - Friday, July 21
Outpost Daria rises from the ashes!
Whew! An interesting series of events, no? Granted, things might have gone MUCH differently had MTV actually been involved in actively Foxing my site; in all likelihood, Outpost Daria may have never returned, or would have re-emerged in a drastically simplified form (say, as a site dedicated solely to fan fiction and artwork). In any event, that is where things currently stand. Keep an eye on the What's New page to see if there are any updates to this sick, sad tale. :-)
Martin J. Pollard
July 21, 2000