When is a fan page not a fan page?
When it’s a Facebook page caught in a battle between its fan creator and a corporation desperate to turn it “official.”
That’s the story behind BET’s attempted acquisition of a Facebook page for its series The Game. The ongoing contest between the corporation and the Facebook page’s creator, Stacey Mattocks, culminated in a lawsuit, filed on Monday. Mattocks claims the struggle for control eventually resulted in a takedown notice from the site because she wouldn’t allow BET to wrest the page away from her.
Mattocks started out as a fan of The Game who made a Facebook page for the canceled 2009 CW series. Her promotion of the series helped boost attention to it, and made it so popular that by the time BET relaunched the show on its own network in 2011, the Facebook page’s 3 million fans comprised nearly half of the viewership of the series premiere—the second-best rating in BET history.
But according to Mattocks and the Hollywood Reporter, the catch to the social media boost that her Facebook page brought to The Game was that BET wanted to take over ownership of it from Mattocks.
At first, Mattocks benefited from BET’s interest in the property—they paid her a part-time salary of $30 an hour to run the page for them. But as the page’s popularity ballooned, Mattocks’s salary demands grew, along with her insistence that she maintain her right of ownership to the Facebook page.
Mattocks’ argument with BET quickly escalated. In 2010, before the show’s premiere, she turned down an offer from BET to essentially contract her services for a year, and buy out her right to the Facebook page. The lawsuit filed on Monday states that the $85,000 BET offered to Mattocks didn’t guarantee her rights:
“Mattocks declined this offer because it was unreasonably low, would have stripped her of all rights to the FB Page, and, moreover, could have been terminated at any point by BET, with or without cause.”
The lawsuit alleges that BET used a “mistaken” disabling of Mattocks’s Facebook account to secure administrative access to her page. BET tried to buy the page from Mattocks for $15,000; she countered with an offer for $1.2 million. BET offered to assign her a gig as “Social Media Specialist” for all their scripted media for a maximum $50,000 over three years; Mattocks refused and demoted their Facebook status from “Manager” to “Moderator.”
Finally, after the three-year battle, BET issued a takedown notice to Mattocks and had Facebook remove the page for infringement, despite its 6 million likes.
From the fandom perspective, Mattocks’s power game with BET is a giant mess of issues. At best, it’s disingenuous for BET to suddenly decide, after years of profiting from one fan’s activities, that the content of her page is a violation of their intellectual property. Given that the network sought and paid for Mattocks’s work on the Facebook page, it’s clear they felt the site added value to their brand rather than devalued it. But whether paying Mattocks for her services meant that the page should likewise have come under BET’s corporate control is another question altogether.
Even more confusing: Mattocks is suing BET for copyright infringement, claiming that the site directly lifted elements from her Facebook page onto their own.
If the BET lawsuit finds its way to a courtroom, it could hold significant implications for other corporations who have sought to use fan-made websites and activities as what amounts to unpaid or devalued work-for-hire. It could also mean interesting things for any corporation attempting to take over control of a website from a fan.
Oddly enough, what’s perhaps most interesting of all is the full reversal corporations have undergone in response to the ownership fans exert over the stories they love.
After all, a decade ago, issuing a takedown notice to the site would have been BET’s first resort, instead of its last.
The Daily Dot has contacted both BET and Mattocks for comment on the situation.
CORRECTION: A previous headline for this story suggested BET was suing Mattocks. In fact, they only issued a takedown notice for her fan page.
Photo by Fernando Alfonso III