Friday, December 17, 2010

Transformative Work Enthusiasts Bolstered By "Yogi Bear" Parody Reaction

Today, a rare instance of Hollywood failing to overreact when defending its copyrights:
A video parody of “Yogi Bear” that’s much darker than your average episode of that vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoon – not to mention the coming Warner Brothers film adaptation – isn’t a viral marketing campaign gone awry. But the studio said on Monday that it wouldn’t try to take down the Web satire, either.
The video, posted on December 13th, is a well-made parody which sets Yogi and Boo Boo in a story that mirrors the end of the film The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It has already generated almost two and a half million views since it was posted.

Many other viral Youtubes featuring corporate-owned properties like these are often taken down on the basis of copyright violation (which has led to amusing bits of confusion such as Sony temporarily forcing Youtube to remove access to Beyonce songs - from Beyonce's own channel). Indeed, takedowns for copyright infringement range across all the creative industries, from comic-book scan sharers having their Livejournal accounts nuked to the Department of Homeland Security shutting down hip-hop sites.

Although many have argued that owners of copyrighted work should consider a more liberal approach to dealing with infringement of that copyright - or that they should reconsider their distribution models to make on-demand access to the material easier to discourage infringement - this argument has been going on since the age of bootlegged music in the 70s and 80s.

What makes Warner Brothers' action worthy of note is that this action is not in response to copyright infringement through basic reproduction of the work, but in response to a transformative use of the work; copyright reform advocates have long argued that transformative use and "remix culture" should be considered protected under fair use/fair dealing law, since they use existing elements of copyright works to create new works which should then receive their own individual copyright.

Warner's statement that taking action against the short's creators would be difficult under existing fair use law is, in that light, an admission that they believe transformative works stand a good chance of ultimately being found allowable as a fair use of existing copyright. That should be encouraging for those of us who want to make parody Youtube videos - and those of us who enjoy watching them.
-Christopher Bird, Toronto
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