Earlier this month, Machinima hosted an independent Batman-inspired fan flick on its main Machinima channel. “Dark Knight Legacy” premiered on September 16 and subsequently scored over 800,000 views in less than two weeks. However, despite the fact that this was a fan film and that ads in front of it were disabled, Warner Bros. has since slammed the digital short with a cease-and-desist.
We spoke with Woody Tondorf, the film’s writer and executive producer before its release and at the time he told us that the short would skirt legal troubles simply because (1) they were not monetizing “Dark Knight Legacy” and (2) it was a work of fan-fiction, which is often protected under certain legal statutes.
Unfortunately, in conjunction with the short’s release, the crew also launched an Indiegogo campaign, which is ultimately where the trouble began.
According to US copyright laws, the legality of fan-fiction relies on several variables including fair use and the right to create derivative work. If the law is called in to decide whether or not a piece of derivative work (fan-fiction) is fair use, the deciding factors are based on four mandatory guidelines. The most important of these guidelines is: “The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.”
While “Dark Knight Legacy” itself was not turning a profit, the Indiegogo campaign was. Another factor when deciding fair use is the effect that the fan film will have in the market and value of the copyrighted work — in this case, the Batman franchise. In Warner Bros. eyes, “Dark Knight Legacy” could cause problems down the line for the Batman series. The legal backlash was doubled simply because with a new Batman film coming out in the next few years, Warner Bros. wants to keep a tight rein on all things cannon.
While most fan fiction goes under big Hollywood’s radar, in the case of “Dark Knight Legacy,” messing with The Bat was going too far, especially as the short aired on the highly trafficked Machinima YouTube channel.