In this time-shifted age of television viewing, spoilers have become the bugaboo of many people's entertainment existence. It wasn't that long ago that missing an episode of television meant that it was simply gone, with no chance for you to catch up. VCRs changed the way people could watch their favorite programs, and in the age of DVRs and streaming and on-demand, there's no reason you can't watch episodes of your favorite shows anytime and anywhere and hop on social media to discuss what happened. But these online forums for TV fans can also be a minefield of spoilers for fans not caught up or, event more perilously, for episodes yet to be released.
Ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead took the unique step of issuing a cease and desist letter to the website The Spoiling Dead Fans over claims that the site was going to post spoilers about the show's now-aired season seven premiere. The site stated that any such claims about spoilers came from sources not affiliated with the site, but they are nevertheless in a precarious position of facing a lawsuit if they are to post future spoilers or even predictions that end up being too accurate.
HBO has similarly taken legal measures to prevent spoilers for its own cultural monolith, Game of Thrones. In addition to pursuing those who post episodes of the show on YouTube and other unauthorized outlets, the network also took action against a Spanish YouTuber who posted spoilers of upcoming storylines in videos that didn't actually feature footage from the episodes.
All of this raises interesting questions related to the bounds of copyright law as it relates to television as well as fair use for ancillary content. By now most of us have become familiar with the articles and internet board threads that try to take clues from past episodes of a show to try and predict what might happen; those could be termed fair use. But it becomes a different matter when the individual or site posting information categorizes it as spoilers, or posts in such specific detail that it can be reasonably assumed that they have inside information. Ultimately, the difference between a post that is protected and one that risks legal action is the difference between "I think" and "I know" and the level of detail they add. Complicating the matter further is the fact that both Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are based upon existing properties, so fans of the respective comic books and novels already have some degree of insight as to what the shows might do. As television tries to continue to create conversation-driving shows hinging around plot twists, they'll have to keep trying to balance fan enthusiasm against the spread of leaked information.