What at first glance might look like a viral marketing campaign for the new Yogi Bear movie, soon reveals itself as a dark parody by 25 year-old animator Edmund Earle. The video recreates the climax of the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with Yogi as Jesse James and Boo Boo as Robert Ford. With Yogi’s back turned, Boo Boo murders Yogi with a double-barreled shotgun.
Despite the grisly nature of the short, and notwithstanding many legal arguments at its disposal, Warner Brothers has apparently opted to allow the video to remain on YouTube. According to the New York Times ArtsBeat, Warner Brothers admits the work is likely a protected work of parody. Whether Warner Brothers fears the Streisand effect, or whether Warner Brothers is taking the tact that all publicity is good publicity, is unclear. What is clear is that given the many perils of misplaced reliance on what one believes to be a “fair use,” artists should not assume this is a watershed case, opening the floodgates to the use of popular licensed characters.
Even on the off chance an author correctly navigates the fair use minefield, the cost of defending a copyright infringement case, even successfully, can run into the tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars. Under the more likely scenario that the the artist misinterprets the requirements of fair use parody, he or she will quickly find themselves yearning for Yogi’s quick and painless dispatch. Before embarking on such an ambitious project, it might be wise to consider how you might look as a bear-skin rug.