Fans have common beliefs about copyright on the Internet:
However, this is not always true. Among other rights, copyright law grants authors exclusive rights to distribute and publicly perform their works. On the Internet, posting of a protected image or text on a website may constitute distribution of the work to the public. Posting of protected video- or audio clips to a website may amount to public performance of a copyrighted work. Both of these uses may violate copyright -- even if webmasters do not make any profit.
However, several courts held that recounting of story plots from popular television shows and verbatim use of distinct elements from shows (such as short phrases from dialogues) violate copyright rights of shows' creators. In addition, most fan sites probably won't qualify as criticism or parody because devoted fans are unlikely to chastise their favorite shows. At the same time, the more original commentary the site has, the better will be its chance to qualify as a fair use.
However, on the Internet the first sale exception comes into question. It is argued that the first sale doctrine should be abandoned on the Internet, because by allowing unrestricted online publishing of protected works, it can undermine their economic value. For example, if a fan posts a postcard of Captain Picard on a web site, allowing thousands of users to download this picture from the Internet, there will be little, if any, incentive for these users to spend their money on buying the postcard that they can get for free from the net.
However, these disclaimers have little, if any, legal value. An infringer can not shield himself from copyright liability simply by saying that he meant no harm.
Yet, the most powerful argument available to fans is not legal, but rather philosophical. If you are interested in learning about it, turn to the next section.