Oasis drives its fans off the Internet

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Fear of prosecution has driven fans of the rock band Oasis to remove sound and video clips of the musicians from the Internet, in a case which could have wider repercussions for users of the World Wide Web.

On 5 May, Ignition Management, which runs Oasis, sent an e-mail to hundreds of fans with sites on the Web, warning them that they had a month to remove "copyrighted" material from their sites.

But it was hazy about what material was copyrighted - including pictures, audio and video clips, lyrics and guitar chords. The deadline arrived on 1 June. So far 36 of the hundreds of sites mentioning Oasis have either shut down or removed material.

Some fans suspect that Ignition has decided not to pursue the matter, possibly realising that its attempts to shut sites have aroused anger but produced no commercial benefit. "I really doubt that they'll come out and say `All right, we were wrong, we're sorry'," said Jack Martin, who runs a Web site opposing the "copyright" claims.

If every site carrying Oasis material closes down, then an important precedent may be set. Equally, it may have been unfair for Ignition to demand the removal of the data, which may have been permitted under "fair use" - that is, quotation - aspects of copyright law.

Mr Martin's site, at the University of Kansas in the US, now offers tips to Oasis fans with sites on how to avoid copyright claims by the company.

Since the deadline, Ignition and Creation, the band's record company, have refused to explain what they consider a copyright breach, how many sites are being examined, or when legal action would be taken.

Mr Martin has been unable to get any reaction either. "I can't imagine it would take more than a week or so to look at the sites to see if they'd complied or not," he said. A spokeswoman for Creation said: "The band are very busy, and so are the management."

The reaction of fans has been overwhelmingly negative. Stephen Penna, aged 14, from Redhill in Surrey, disconnected his site from the Web about a week before the deadline.

"I had Oasis sound clips and album and single covers on my site, neither of which anyone from the companies would have liked to be on my site," he told The Independent. "I am still a big Oasis fan, and think nothing ill of them, especially as Noel [Gallagher, lead guitarist] said that he and the band had nothing to do with shutting down fan sites. But Ignition and Creation are just making a big fuss for nothing."