Personally, I don’t think I would have chosen April 20, the 121st anniversary of Hitler’s birthday, as the day I forced YouTube to take down the parody videos made using the bunker scene from the Academy Award-nominated 2004 German film, “Downfall,” about Hitler’s last days. But that’s just me.
Constantin Films made copyright claims to YouTube to force the company to take down the popular clips, which put subtitles over the German dialog. They said they were protecting the actors, but I couldn’t find information on how this would affect the actors except by making them a LOT more famous.
I’m disappointed because I was looking forward to learning how to write Hitler “Downfall” parodies myself. Parody is a fair use of the material, but if Constantin Films challenges a parody maker, they’re on their own to file a “fair use” claim.
‘Downfall’ director Oliver Hirschbiegel expressed an opposing view in an interview with New York magazine’s Vulture: “Someone sends me the links every time there’s a new one. I think I’ve seen about 145 of them! Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I’m laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn’t get a better compliment as a director. I think it’s only fair if now it’s taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like.”
“Killing ‘Hitler Reacts’ has to be the worst decision in movie-making history since someone gave Rob Schneider a job,” says Nick Douglas, senior editor at our viral-minded partner Urlesque. “Before, there was this film called ‘Downfall’ that a few American film and history buffs knew. After the ‘Downfall’ parodies, there was a whole new audience. I’m tempted to say it’s because Old Media doesn’t get it — but I think it’s more nuanced. By now, most studios and labels sort of ‘get’ what’s going on — they just want more control.”
Douglas also wonders if the videos’ creators may be able to defend their mash-ups as protected works of parody. The Supreme Court defines parody as “the use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s works,” Douglas points out. “Seems like the ‘Downfall’ parodies fit that description. They make comparisons between an important historical event as interpreted by the film and much sillier modern events. But who’s going to fight a court battle over a YouTube clip?”
Constantin Films did not respond to PopEater’s request for comment.
Update, 4/21/2010, Wed.: Little Miss Attila has a brilliant solution to fill the void, which does not require the cooperation of Constantin Films. Moe Lane, great strategic thinker that he is, proposes we make Constantin Films an offer they would be foolish to refuse — I love it, and I’m in. Stacy McCain mourns the loss and longs for the one meme that can no longer console him.