Royal Sitings

The Elvis Home Page Saga

Written on May 24, 1995
Published by Websight Magazine in November, 1995


When Andrea Berman, a 24-year-old Human Factors Engineer in the Aerospace industry, wanted to put something up on the Web, she decided that Elvis Presley would make a good, cool topic for a site. After all, as one of the first true multi-media heroes -- a simultaneous star of record, stage, radio, TV and film -- the supposedly dead King of Rock and Roll seemed like a natural for the Web. And while Andrea describes herself as a "Elvis-as-pop-kitsch-culture" person rather than a hardcore Elvis-as-the-new-messiah fan, in the back of her mind, she might have been hoping that a good Web site could be the impetus to bring Him out of hiding.

"I had been to Graceland," Ms. Berman said in a recent e-mail interview, "so I had all the requisite postcards and brochures to scan from, and I had some Elvis music for sound clips as well." These pictures and sound files were the foundation of the controversial centerpiece of her site, the "Cyber-Graceland Tour."

According to Ms. Berman, the original Cyber-Graceland Tour was nothing more than a photo tour of Elvis's palatial mansion, with a line or two of trivia about each room in the house and a few song clips to augment the whole experience. "I wanted it to be the virtual equivalent of touring Graceland. Of course, nothing can compete with the real thing . . . I even encouraged people to go visit the real thing and had a link to a small map of Memphis."

Her Elvis Home Page premiered in July, 1994. And while her site didn't flush the ever-elusive Elvis, it eventually attracted the attention of a law firm representing Elvis Presley Enterprises. In November, 1994 -- after the site had been featured in the New York Times Business Section as an example of how the Web works -- the firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips sent her what she refers to as "The Letter," a missive demanding that she immediately withdraw the "Cyber-Graceland Tour" due to copyright infringement.

This letter, sent with no advance warning (and by Airborne Express for maximum dramatic effect) totally freaked her out. Within a day, she wiped her site clean of any copyrighted material, and -- in a savvy move -- replaced it with the letter from the law firm. After all, she had neither the time, inclination or (especially) the wherewithal to fight EPE. Nevertheless, she did have some allies -- the net.public was on her side: "When the letter went up, I heard from people all over the world (and I still do) about how ridiculous the whole situation is, how much I'm helping and not hurting EPE, and how copyright laws as they exist right now just don't fit the Internet."

And that's the big question: how do existing copyright laws apply to a new medium like the World Wide Web? Nobody really knows for sure. For example, "The Letter" (the full text of which is at the site) has a couple of references to state law. But as Andrea points out "... the letter came from California, the Elvis files are housed in North Carolina, I live in Texas, and my permanent address is in Massachusetts." And Graceland is in Tennessee. So which state?

The other, and probably bigger question is: are the people who hammer all this out going to have any prior experience with the Internet at all?? Indeed, reading the letter, it becomes painfully obvious that Manatt, Phelps & Phillips didn't know the World Wide Web from Charlotte's Web. For one thing, why did it take four months for the Elvis Home Page to come to their attention?? Moreover, one of their points in their cease-and-desist letter was that "both the sound and the graphics [of the Cyber-Graceland Tour] are of low quality." But there's nothing backing up exactly how they made that determination. Anybody online knows that quality is often determined by the client's set-up, not the server's. Which browser were they using? What kind of system were they running on? How fast was their modem? And finally -- despite having three different snail mail addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers -- why don't they have an e-mail address? One wonders if they actually even saw the site, or just fired off a knee-jerk "cease-and-desist" letter after reading about it.

These are all pertinent questions, but since the law firm didn't respond to any inquiries for this article, they have to remain unasked for now. Make no mistake, the head-on collision between the people who claim to own intellectual property and the people who have already disseminated bizillions of gigabytes of this property all over the globe is coming. Anybody who uses the Web at all has enjoyed sound files, pictures, movies, and text from unauthorized sources. And as more companies like EPE discover the Web, and what they see as potential profits just given away, eventually a minor skirmish like the one over the Elvis Home Page is going to flame into a major war.

And what about the Elvis Home Page? It's doing quite nicely, thank you. Andrea, buoyed by the support she received, has slowly been rebuilding it with non-copyrighted and public domain material, Elvis software, and links to other Elvis sites. In fact, thanks to a sympathetic photographer, there's even a link to a photographic tour of Graceland, as well as Elvis' birthplace. So once again, Elvis is everywhere.


And so began my association with the ill-fated Websight magazine, published by one of my favorite people I've met through this media, the irrepressible Stuart Turner.

It actually started several months eariler, at Internet World '95 in San Jose. This was March of 1995, I believe, and not only had I started surfing music sites for the McKinley Guide (as it was known then), I'd also had a huge hankering to turn my writing toward the Net. As a matter of fact, I'd already tried to get a job at The Net magazine, but was shot down, due to my lack of experience in the medium. Or something.

Anyways, Websight had a booth at Internet World, and I just walked up to them and said "Hey, I'm a writer, I'd like to write for you!" And I got a card with an email address. And so, I sent them this email:

From:     jim@pandemic.com 
To:       editors@website.com
Subject:  Website submissions
Reply-to: jim@pandemic.com
Date:     Tue, 2 May 1995 12:28:58

 Hi.  My name is Jim Connelly, and I'd like to write for WebSight.

 I don't know if you have a staffer already dedicated to this, but I'd
 like to write a monthly column dedicated to music on the Web.  I've
 been writing about music for various publications and  zines for over
 a decade -- most recently landed a couple of blurbs in the Village
 Voice annual survey of rock writers -- and for the last few months
 I've been surfing music-oriented sites for the McKinley online
 database.  It's great, because I can combine my encyclopedic knowledge
 of popular music with my love of doing the netsurf boogie through the
 monster swells of the World Wide Web.

 I've been through hundreds and hundreds of sites, all of which I have
 good working notes for -- and I'll be going through hundreds and
 hundreds more.  I've found plenty of amazing places that I could write
 about in-depth.  Everything from Beatles sites with unreleased songs
 to hilarious college marching band sites.  I've found online  zines to
 review, and plenty of oddities -- like the French Led Zeppelin page
 that has the lyrics to the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." Or "Alex
 Bennett's World," where an iconoclastic net-savvy DJ holds court. In
 any event, here are just some of the ideas I have for columns:

 What makes an amazing site: cool-looking but not huge graphics, a
 sense of humour, songs, videos, interactivity and lots and lots of
 updated text information -- especially information you can't find
 anywhere else.  And, what makes a terrible site: my number one pet
 peeve right now is bozos who are writing for the latest version of
 Netscape, and yet, obviously, don't even have it.   If they did have
 it, they'd notice how their oh-so-boss background colors and patterns
 are obscuring their text, rendering their site unusable.

 Why record company sites, for the most part, suck.  For example, the
 Warner Bros. R.E.M. site completely ignores their pre-GREEN material.
 And of course, the odd record company site that is actually bearable
 (right now, Capitol Records is running a pretty cool Duran Duran
 lottery contest).

 Where to go if you're a fan of a particular genre like, say, ska.  Or
 death-metal.  Or progressive.

 Sites with input from the artist.  While most of my favorite
 music-oriented Web sites are put together by hardcore fans with way
 too much time on their hands, there are some musicians who also dabble
 in HTML, or at least have friends who do.

 I'd love to do a story on the battle over the Elvis site with His
 estate.

 How the FAQ has developed from just the Frequently Asked Questions
 into a repository of all known knowledge on a subject.  (And isn't it
 handy how FAQ is pronounced so much like "fact?") This isn't a
 specifically music-oriented topic, but just something I've been
 thinking about lately.

 I'd like to do a "Site of the Month" as well as a "Dud of the Month."

 If you have any question about my knowledge of music and/or the Web
 please direct your browsers to http://www.hooked.net/users/barefoot/.
 That's my web site, and it has a list of links to some of the places
 I've discovered. It also has my Village Voice critics poll submission,
 and that has links to music-oriented articles I wrote in 1994.  I
 think my page should convince you that I know of what I speak.

 I'm really looking forward to hearing from you -- I can only hope that
 you don't yet have somebody dedicated to music.  If you do, I'd still
 like to contribute articles based on my ideas -- even if it isn't a
 monthly column.

 thank you ever so much for your time and consideration. i look forward
 to hearing from you in the very near future.

--Jim Connelly
jim@pandemic.com

They liked the Elvis article, and in November of 1995, it was finally published, and they offered me a regular column, all about the intersection of music and the Internet. I took it, knowing that I'd already become bored with being that specific about what I wanted to write about, but wanting to get my foot in the door.

Also, by that time, I'd tried and failed to get a full-time job surfing and reviewing sites for McKinley (thank god, as subsequent events have proved), and suceeded in getting a job at Art and Science actually building them . . .

By the way, the Elvis Home Page is still thriving.

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This page HTMLized on 6 October 1997
I was listening to Tobin Sprout -- Moonflower Plastic