Short movie remakes

I just noticed the new Empire Strikes Back animated gif created by Folds Five. (via Boing Boing). empire.gif This is the latest in a series of modified movies that seem to be proliferating on the internet, ranging from the “movies in 30 seconds, as re-enacted by bunnies” of Angry Alien to the recent, hilarious redone trailer of “Shining” which recasts the classic horror movie as a Cameron Crowe style family comedy.

Many of these make me laugh. I’m not so sure about their legality, though. Parody? Maybe. (Are they clearly parodies?) Fair use? Again, maybe. But I wouldn’t really want to bet the farm on either of those. What do our IP experts think?

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6 Responses

  1. Paul Gowder says:

    I’m not an IP-expert, but I’m an IP-competent… As a threshold matter, there aren’t any credible trademark issues, since none are likely to cause confusion or any constitutionally permissible kind of dilution.

    As for copyright, well, lets bust out the fair use factors. (1) They’re pretty clearly transformative — whether or not they constitute “parodies,” they clearly are being used for a wholly different purpose than the original. The empire strikes back gif isn’t going up on movie screens, etc. They’re also noncommercial. Weighs heavily in favor of fair use finding. (2) The prior works were all published, but were all creative works. Mas o meno. (3) These uses don’t really seem to be taking a lot of the copyrighted works. The ESB image takes pretty much the whole story I guess (though it’s hard to tell) but doesn’t take any of the actual images, etc. I haven’t seen the rest, but per the “movies in 30 seconds” description, the same would apply. Slightly favors fair use finding. (4) Zero market effect on the original. Heavily weighs in favor of fair use finding.

    I think the fair use is clear.

  2. Ben says:

    Professor, I think that should be Folds Five, not Force Five.

  3. Kaimi says:

    Corrected, thanks!

  4. Kaimi says:


    This is out of my area, but my impression is that fair use isn’t as clear as you suggest. My own analysis:

    1. Not really transformative. Same story line, etc.

    2. Arguably, there is pretty heavy reliance on the original — they take the whole story, and condense it.

    3. Isn’t there a derivative market — the market for short clips — that is adversely affected?

    Again, this is outside of my expertise, perhaps a real expert will weigh in.

  5. Joe Liu says:


    As the temporary resident IP expert, I think there’s a pretty good fair use argument in most of these cases, though it’s certainly not a slam dunk. Much would depend on the fourth factor: harm to the market. If there is really no plausible impact on the market, I think most courts would let it slide. However, fair use analysis is notoriously indeterminate.

    This whole phenomenon is a nice example of how digital technology is reducing the cost of creative expression and enabling all sorts of unexpected forms of creativity. Like you, I find these examples pretty funny.

    One of my favorite Star-Wars related parodies is the one using South Park characters. Here’s the extended version: .

    The trailer was funnier, although I can’t seem to find it online now.


  6. John Cowan says:

    If a 30-second short-short can “take the whole plot” of a feature film, then so can a 300-word plot summary, but obviously such summaries are fair use, and they are on all fours with the short-short otherwise. IANAL, TINLA.