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We are Sterling Cooper (or why brands really shouldn't sue their biggest fans)

We are sterling cooper

Every generation, every moment in history, tends to feel transitional.

It seems to be a natural human tendency to feel like Janus, looking backwards at the past and forwards into the future at the same time, applying an ongoing narrative progression to history and, by inference, putting ourselves at an inflection point, at the death and birth of paradigms.

Which is why I'm always a little skeptical of my own tendency to believe that things are changing for the awesome.

But my optimism (or possibly meliorism) should and does overcome my skepticism.

Owners of brands and intellectual property have for a good long while acted somewhat Janus like (or at least two-faced) .

One the one hand (or face) they crave attention and love of the most hardcore fans - those people who obsessively love and advocate their product or story.

On the other, because they insist on being loved within specific parameters, on controlling the relationship entirely, on defending the abstract notion they have of what the product or story is and should be and should be for, they tend to sue people who love them the most.

Whilst this seems entirely counter-intuitive it is and has been the basic response of anyone who steps outside the boundaries they define.

When Jose Avilla created a website to show off the furniture he had created out of FedEx boxes, FedEx forced the ISP to take the site down under DMCA.

Mattel has had numerous legal run ins with people who like making their own, challenging, versions of Barbie.

Metallica sued 30,000 fans that downloaded / seeded the most Metallica tracks on Napster, also under the DMCA

There are lots of different flavours and issues in these examples, but at the heart of the problem is the basic fact that the knee-jerk response to communicating with these people, who are the BIGGEST FANS OF BRAND, who love and tirelessly prosletyse for it, is a legal cease and desist for lawyers.

This is quite fascinatingly insane.

Fanfiction has always existed within this world. Writers of fan fiction are deeply immersed in the narrative worlds they add to. There is a huge fan fiction subculture and very different attitudes from creators about it.

When people began to spontaneously twitter in the guise of characters from Mad Men, AMC's response was as to jerk their knee: legal cease and desist orders to twitter.

But, and here's where perhaps the glimmer of inflection appears, their digital agency Deep Focus suggested that perhaps this wasn't really a very good idea, and AMC came around.

Bud, one of the Sterling Cooper twitterers, has collated strands of the story and is publishing a report about the experience on December 8th:

We're your biggest fans, your die-hard proponents, and when your show gets cancelled we'll be among the first to pass around the petition. Talk to us. Befriend us. Engage us. But please, don't treat us like criminals.

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