Editor’s note: After this article was published, Red Letter Media’s “Attack of the Clones” review was put back up on YouTube in full.
It’s the familiar story of a small upstart rebellion and the vast empire it seeks to destroy. But for “Star Wars” fan Mike Stoklasa, the writer/director behind Red Letter Media’s enormously popular video eviscerations of “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” this is definitely his “Empire Strikes Back” moment.
Help him, legal Jedis. You’re his only hope.
“Don’t sue me, Lucasfilm!” the 31-year-old laughed in an interview with MTV News. “I don’t know the likelihood of that, but just don’t do it!”
Stoklasa believes he has reason to be apprehensive. Buoyed by the support of, among others, “Star Trek” actor Simon Pegg and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, Stoklasa’s nearly 70-minute video critique of “The Phantom Menace” exploded across cyberspace after it launched late in December, garnering millions of views on YouTube and a seemingly equal number of raves.
His follow-up, this time a nearly 90-minute review of “Attack of the Clones,” catapulted his Red Letter Media channel to among the most popular on YouTube. But not 48 hours after its initial posting Saturday night, the first segment of the review was taken down by the popular video sharing service, “ostensibly” after a copyright claim by Cartoon Network.
“Was it really Cartoon Network or not? I don’t know,” Stoklasa sighed. “There was someone who started a rumor that it was a specific YouTube user who had copied the first part over to his channel and then put a link to his Web site in the description. But YouTube doesn’t tell you who flagged it.”
Representatives from Cartoon Network and Lucasfilm had not responded to MTV requests for comment by press time.
The difference is critical, Stoklasa argued, as what’s at stake goes beyond his specific video and toward the nature of copyright law in the new digital millennium. For instance, while fair use generally allows for the use of copyright materials in the case of review or criticism, Stoklasa admits uncertainty as to where exactly his videos fall.
“The thing is, I’m no lawyer. But I had someone actually talk to a copyright lawyer, and they didn’t know what to make of the reviews. It’s a new thing,” Stoklasa conceded. “You can get away with using a clip from a movie for the purpose of review or commentary, but can you dissect an entire film like that? There’s commentary and it’s part satire [because of the character, Mr. Plinkett] and part review and part educational as well because there’s elements of filmmaking insights.”
Uncertain, Stoklasa has been discouraged from filing a counterclaim, he revealed.
“I have the option of filing a counterclaim either through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or just a general copyright claim. But the legalese on there is very complex and harsh,” he said. “I am sure it’s YouTube trying to not get involved, but it said something like, ’If you are making a false claim and you knowingly admit this you can be liable and the other party is now required to sue you.’
“I don’t really have anywhere to turn for advice on this matter. I don’t think I have free will to do anything I want with the material,” he added. “But what is this review and do I have the rights to do this? I just don’t really know.”
If you’re a fan, it’s time to “get a bad feeling about this,” because if the matter is not resolved Stoklasa says he not only doesn’t plan on reposting part one, but admits he won’t work on a promised review of “Revenge of the Sith” either.
“With the ’Phantom Menace’ review that got a lot of attention and I was really nervous at first ’cause of that but nothing really happened.mI thought maybe [Lucasfilm] didn’t really care,” he said. “But this puts a damper on things for Part III.”
This story was originally published at 6:04 PM E.T. on 4.6.10