Warner Brothers has to be impressed, very angry and a little nervous, most likely in that order.
Edmund Earle, a recent animation graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, developed his own ‘alternate ending’ to the current Yogi Bear movie based on the ending of the movie ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.’ Earle’s video is impressive (especially considering he did it himself) and will no doubt help to launch a successful animation career. Earle refers to the video as a parody hoping to fall into ‘fair use‘ protection and avoid litigation. YouTube, like Hollywood is rife with ‘Parody’, ‘Inspiration’ ,’Homage’ , and people otherwise copying the style, themes or ideas of others.
This issue isn’t new but because the video is so well done, I believe it could start a much larger debate over ‘fair use.’ The simple claim would be that Earle is not directly making money off of a copyrighted brand, it was intended as a ‘parody,’ so – no harm no foul. WB on the other hand could claim harm and they might have a point. This video might also generate a huge amount of buzz for a movie that is still in theaters. (Wouldn’t it be brilliant if WB was actually behind this as a publicity stunt…)
Regardless of the legal issues or what side of the ‘fair use’ argument you happen to fall on, the implications of this video are significant to your company:
1. How much control do you have over your brand?
Is it okay for anyone to do anything they want with your brand, your copyrighted material and your intellectual property as long as they call it a parody? Most industry observers concede that social media is causing companies to lose control of their brands.
2. How should you react when this happens?
The easy and correct answer is – it depends. How much harm was caused? What are the short and long term implications? Will reacting or not reacting cause greater harm in the future? What are the PR implications to how you react? Do you scream like a petulant child or do you embrace (and therefore co-opt) the transgressor?
3. How does this ‘new reality’ affect your business and your brand in the future?
I believe this is the important consideration in this matter – the question all companies should be considering right now. A few years ago the technology didn’t exist to allow one talented individual to develop and share something like this. Today it does. All bets are off. This is going to happen again and again, in many different ways with many different consequences. Companies may or may not be protected by the law (just ask the recording industry), so what should you do to anticipate and embrace this change? Do you build this new reality into your future brand and business planning or do you fight kicking and screaming? Should WB start hiring more lawyers or should they be encouraging animators to develop alternate endings to some of their movies – like this one, while they are still in theaters?
Should you be steadfastly protecting your brand or sharing it with the masses?