Open letter to the Friendster Community and Management

[pulled from a Friendster Bulletin Board; written by “Roy Batty”]

Date: July 30, 2003 9:43 PM


The corporate masters at Friendster should be thrilled that they have such a vibrant online community as they now have on their hands. What they forget is that a living community, by definition, has a life of its own.

There are many of us here who play at being an alter-ego, and take the guises of celebrities or fictional characters, and are typically known as �Fakesters.� It is true that we appropriate imagery in theoretical violation of both the Friendster user agreement and copyright law. However, I believe both recent legal developments and legal precedent are on our side.

Three issues come to our defense:

Famously, as depicted in the film �The People vs. Larry Flynt,� parody is constitutionally protected free speech. The court�s defining test in that case, as successfully argued by Flynt�s lawyer against Jerry Falwell, was that nobody would ever believe that Falwell had really slept with his mother in an outhouse. In exactly the same way, nobody in their right mind believes for a second that Bj�rk or William Shatner (two of my Friendsters!) are really posting on this network � not to impugn their excellent skills as convincingly whimsical impostors, by the way! By violating our right to freedom of speech via parody, it opens the door to a potential legal challenge. (Anyone got a connection at the EFF who would like to elaborate on this angle?)

It�s been pretty well established that the age-old practice of Fair Use governs much of what transpires in the digital age. Quoting other authors� material in articles, sampling in music, and the regular referencing of other artists� visual ideas and motifs in mainstream media such as TV and movies occur thousands of times on a daily basis. When we �play� a famous person or character, we are doing exactly the same thing, and paying that person or creator the highest compliment we know. We wear their skin like a costume, and become not them, but postmodern referential versions of these icons blended with our own personalities and individual senses of humor.

While the Friendster �berlords may have built the playground, they can�t shoo away the mischievous kids who don�t follow their unrealistic rules. This community is also defined by the individuals who comprise it, not simply by the people who mixed the cement for its sidewalk. They wanted people to visit their little world, and here we are � they can�t just ask us to leave or behave in exactly the way they want us to now that we�re just as responsible as anyone else here for getting the party really rolling. By current legal and ethical standards, Friendster, Inc. is not responsible for its members� behavior, nor should they be in the position of playing cop. Believe me, if somebody here didn�t play fair, or was abusive in any way, we�d report that person to the Principal in a nanosecond. Why? Because we care about this community as much as its builders, and have a very strong idea of community standards � we aren�t just errant scofflaws or out to mock the system (not all of us, anyway � and so what if we are?), but are here for entertainment, amusement, and personal connection � just as Friendster�s builders intended, right?! And damn, do some of these people make me laugh like I haven�t laughed in a long time. And the guys in charge want to STOP that? Are they HIGH?! They can�t buy publicity like the word of mouth this site now has � and it�s precisely because of so many clever, talented Fakesters that Friendster is worth visiting at all.

Deleting the photos and/or entire accounts of Fakesters is going to rudely, terribly backfire against the management of this site, and will ultimately take the entire community, real or parodied, down with it. The rumblings of dissent are already growing, getting louder by the minute. If Friendster wants to see all of the good will and excellent word of mouth it has generated go down in scorching, smoking, very public flames, then they can go right ahead with their little extermination campaign. The Internet is a big place, and we can easily take our party somewhere else � to a site where we are not only tolerated, but enthusiastically embraced.

Please pass the word and help fight the good fight. This is our home, too.

I thank you all, my dear new friends � both real and imaginary.

“Roy Batty”
Replicant and Fakester

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