da Silva and Garcia (2012) describe an interesting case of copyright enforcement on YouTube, regarding Constantin Films and the “Downfall meme,” where Internet users remixed a scene of the studio’s film Der Untergang with different subtitles, thereby juxtaposing a crucial emotional climax of the film regarding Hitler’s downfall in World War II with silly or mundane circumstances. Thomas and Pan (2010) counted a collection of 2,930 such parody videos on YouTube alone in an informal July 2010 survey with the five most popular totaling over 10 million hits in April of that same year.
According to KnowYourMeme.com, the earliest known parody was uploaded to YouTube in 2006 by user DReaperF4. Subbed in Spanish, the video shows a belligerent Hitler seething over the paucity of new features in the demo version of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X (KnowYourMeme, 2007). In response to viewers, DReaperF4 later uploaded a version of “Sim Heil: Der untersim” in English, only to see the original video deleted upon copyright claim by the film studio on December 26, 2009 (YouTomb, 2009).
Originally, director Oliver Hirschbiegel was supportive of the parodies, “The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. We think it’s only fair if now it’s taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like” (Klang and Nolin 2012, p. 173). Constantin thus began a purge of all perceived copyright violators, demanding YouTube remove the parodies, and per Google policy, these actions were taken without debate or reprieve. Gilbert (2013) notes that “Two days after Constantin’s initiative began, at least 68 versions remained on YouTube and others were posted to sister sites” (p. 419). A protest video from user hitlerrantsparodies was uploaded not long after and featured the copyright message sent by Constantin with angry subtitles criticizing the company’s tact. “Six months later, the same user posted on a ‘‘Downfall Parodies Forum’’: ‘‘It seems Constantin Film may now be finally allowing parodies on YouTube, they are now placing ads on some of my parodies instead of blocking them.’’ Constantin, it seems, had given up its witch-hunt” (p. 419).
These videos were actually restored to YouTube not when the witch-hunt ended, but when Constantin understood a choice could be made to monetize these parody efforts: “As far as we can ascertain, most of videos which were made inaccessible in April 2010 have since been restored to YouTube, with added advertising – Constantin Film changed their strategy from blocking to monetising and tracking.” (da Silva and Garcia 2012, p. 90-91). The most popular Downfall video, “Hitler Gets Banned from XBox Live,” was taken down after Constantin Films received a complaint from Microsoft (da Silva & Garcia, 2012, p. 91), demonstrating how complicated copyright complaints can be on YouTube. “By embedding a machine readable licence into their content, Constantin films could make it clear how their content can be used, the terms of attribution, how they are willing to share advertising revenues which accrue from reuse of their content in mashups, and any other terms they wish to attach” (Thomas and Pan, 2010, p. 2). Any video that breaks these rules can be instantly ferreted and removed per an agreement with YouTube and other content aggregators, all while “valid reused content” can be exploited for revenues by the copyright holders, namely Constantin FIlms.
What do the actions of Constantin Films and other studio content creators inform scholars regarding remixes from film? Gregory joins the scholarly chorus warning us “the witch-hunt that should give us pause” (p. 419) as James Boyle, Lawrence Lessig, Kembrew McLeod, among others have shown the danger of “Big Media’s” protective policies dictating ownership and authenticity. Most interestingly considering the Downfall example is that many YouTubers (users active in the YouTube community) held YouTube in contempt for betraying them to Big Media. “Posted defiantly on YouTube, “Hitler reacts to the Hitler parodies being removed from YouTube” places heavy criticism on the film studio, on YouTube’s acceptance of the copyright claim, and on the subsequent automatic take-down” (da Silva and Garcia, 2012, 100-1).
While YouTube has a negotiated relationship with copyright holders of video remixes, little attention has been paid to the creators and viewers of these remixes and their consideration of copyright issues. It is unclear how large of a concern these issues are for individual creators and viewers is at all. Until the gap in scholarship is filled, the hurt feelings and angry responses from users like DReaperF4 and hitlerrantsparodies are likely to continue.
da Silva, P.D. & Garcia, J.L. (2012). YouTubers as satirists: Humour and remix in online video. Journal of e-Democracy, 4, 89-114.
Downfall/Hitler reacts. (2013). Know Your Meme. Retrieved from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/downfall-hitler-reacts
DReaperF4. (2006). Sim Heil. (English version). YouTomb. Retrieved from http://youtomb.mit.edu/youtube/tcW3hbnR2EI
Gilbert, C. J. (12/2013). Playing With Hitler: and Its Ludic Uptake. Critical studies in media communication. , 30 (5), p. 407 – 424.
Klang, M., & Nolin, J. (2012). Tolerance is Law: Remixing Homage Parodying Plagiarism. ScriptED, 9(2).
Plankhead. (2010). Hitler reacts to the Hitler parodies being removed from YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/kBO5dh9qrIQ
Thomas, E., & Pan, J. Z. (2010). Semantic Advertising Using Linked and Embedded Metadata. Proceedings of Digital Futures ’10, October 11-12, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.horizon.ac.uk/images/stories/p74-Thomas.pdf