an Internet issue?

Fans of cult childrens television programme Teletubbies have been ordered to remove pictures and text from their web sites by BBC lawyers - but an official Tubbie web site will appear soon.

Nineteen sites that hosted images copyrighted by the corporation were sent emailed requests to remove the material, much to the annoyance of many Internet users.

The owners of the sites admitted they had breached the BBC's copyright in using the pictures, but were disappointed that it took such drastic action.  Many children whose parents had access to the Net had enjoyed viewing, or in one case even creating, the sites.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said that the demand for Teletubbies material had forced the BBC to react, and an official Tubbie site is now under construction.

"We understand the arguments of the Internet Tubbie fans, but we cannot
be seen to be making an exception for any of our protected trademarks," she said.

"We have treated everybody the same.  Most of the sites had simply used copyrighted pictures, but some had content that we felt was unsuitable for children, and considering they are the target audience of the TV programme we felt we had a special duty to monitor these sites."

BBC web experts had started work on an official site this week, she revealed.

Meanwhile, some of the website owners who were faced with the legal letter said they understood the BBC's legal position on copyright, but thought it was a shame that online Tubbie fans would lose out.

One web site owner, Julia1, who created a site with the help of her three-year-old son Oliver, said:  "I wanted the site to be educational for my son's sake.  I understand why the BBC has done this, but they must realise that perhaps the unofficial Teletubbie presence on the Internet was really for their benefit and could only help them.

"Some of the Teletubbies sites were not all together good for children, and the email got rid of them, but it also got rid of the good sites too.  Not just my son's, but the many other pages that were emerging before we were stopped."

Another web site creator, Moose, said: "Obviously it was disappointing that the BBC chose to exercise their rights, but its not unreasonable that they should do so.  They have, they point out, a duty to tread very carefully when dealing with a programme aimed at such a young audience.  I think this is what is at the heart of the crackdown."

A third web site creator, Mcstev, said: "Although legally the BBC are entitled to take action against both myself and the other Tubbie site authors, it seems pedantic, not to mention ridiculous, that they should take the time, money and resources in doing so."