Although I’m not really allowed to talk about the case, I can talk a bit about Oscarwatch, why I started it, what it’s become and where it might be going. Initially, AMPAS wanted to go through ICANN, which handles rights to domain names on the internet. But apparently something made them change their minds and go directly to full blown $100,000 lawsuit.
They have called my self-defense “offensive” and believe they have legitmate rights to any domain name called their trademarked “Oscar.” Where we go from here is not really going to be talked about publicly. But let’s talk about the past.
Oscarwatch.com started in 1998. I had created a whole different online site called cinescene.com, which came out of a great cinema listserv I belonged to for several years called Cinema-l. In the listserv days, no one really actively participated in the web. There was no dot com surge yet and everyone was talking about a really cool web interface called Mosaic. I connected to Cinema-l through AOL at first but then figured out how to have direct access.
When Cinema-l dried up (I think it might still exist though) I sought to reach a broader audience with Cinescene.com. But that wasn’t quite where my interests were. I can find posts from the Cinema-l days on google groups, which archived all of our posts, where I show a strong interest in Oscar predicting. It was fun. The game of figuring out who might win based on what interested me greatly. There were a few sites around at the time that stored Oscar and awards information but there was no site monitoring the Oscar race itself. Plenty of magazines already did it – Entertainment Weekly (which called its Oscar issue Oscar Watch at the time), the Hollywood Reporter, Variety and even the Los Angeles Times issued its Oscar predictions annually.
My goal with the site was to take advantage of the wide open world the net had created and try something no one else has tried (this is just one of my crazy ideas I made happen – I still have yet to manifest my eco-friendly lunch boxes, my virtual reality excerise machine, my survival kits, etc). I was writing freelance from home while I took care of my daughter, who was born in 1998.
The site started by analyzing the what comes before the Oscars awards. The DGA and the WGA and the Eddie, really. As the site became popular and awards watching began to take off, every city in America, and even internationally, suddenly had critics awards. We had contests, commentary, predictions and analysis. And our lively forum. It was the best of times.
At the same time I was developing OW, Tom O’Neil was launching Gold Derby. His site also monitored the Oscar race and, like OW, had an active message board. In fact, we often refer to OW vs. GD because of the strengths of the forums alone. The Oscarwatch forum has been going strong all of these years becuase of the devoted following it has and because of a small group of dedicated forum admins and mods who keep it running smoothly. I have very little to do with it, management wise. But if OW goes down, the forums go with it. And they have come to identify themselves as Oscarwatchers.
In other words, Oscar watching on the internet has become a “thing.” Its own “thing.” Oscarwatching means looking at the films and actors (as well as other categories like lighting, sound and editing, etc.) released in any given year and figuring what has the best shot at being nominated. It isn’t unlike observing animals in their natural habitat and giving your best guess as to where they’ll find food, whom they will choose as their mates and what they will do if it rains. Oscarwatching is not really supposed to be about the “shoulds.” It’s not who SHOULD win, but who WILL win.
Over the years, the site has grown in popularity, probably reaching an all-time this past year. Part of that is that so many other Oscar sites popped up all over the net and mainstream media got involved – so the LA Times has The Envelope, NY Times has the Carpetbagger, USA Today has Oscar coverage, etc. It’s big business. Why? In many cases, they sense a strong interest by the general public in what goes on with the Oscar race. Part of it is an increased interest in celebrity in general. Part of it is that the For Your Consideration ads bring big bucks. But there is a tiny part of it that is due to Oscarwatch itself. It may be a tiny part but it’s a part nonetheless.
Wherever Oscarwatch goes in the future, if we’re chased off the internet by AMPAS, we still have all of those years ago, when Oscarwatch help change the way people looked at, talked about and considered the Oscars. You see, they are important. The show itself might be cheesy, long and self-indulgent but the Oscars themselves make a difference. They are a time capsule. They are a reflection back at our culture’s taste. No one was talking about how no African American woman had ever won an Oscar before Halle Berry until we started talking about it. When only straight white people are winning Oscars, what does that say about our film community?
For the record, AMPAS has never once said anyone couldn’t write about the Oscars. They never once told me to stop badmouthing them or change my content in any way; it is only to do with the domain name. The question then becomes, what’s in a name?