Robot Chicken copyright?

So Robot Chicken is obviously playing fast and loose with a lot of copyrighted/trademarked characters. Is this possible because:

  1. It’s considered fair use?
  2. They are getting permission? (A lot of the guest voices do play ‘themselves’ but I’ve seen them use Barbie, who is pretty anal about her trademark).
  3. They just don’t care?
  4. All or some or none of the above?

You can’t fool me. Barbie doesn’t even have an anus.

Not being privy to the details, I assume that they either have permission or they believe that they have a strong “parody fair use” case.

It also seems that they get the actual person to provide the voices in many of the sketches… That may help a “parody fair use” arguement. I’m usually surprised to see how many actual personalities lend their voices to the show.

If the actual personalities are involved, there’s no problem; at the very least, it’s implied permission, and the lawyers would probably require that they sign something to grant permission.

And the it’d be hard to fight any “parody” defense the show uses, so it’s probably not worth fighting.

“Ken told Skipper their marriage was a failure/'cause Ken and Barbie have no genitalia.” managed to get into a movie* without complaint.

*Anyone know which? :wink:

I really don’t think its number 2. I can’t beleive any of the manufacturs of the childrens toys they use would agree to use them such ahem adult situations (even if they agreed to share the revenue from the show, given as its late night on basic cable, it can’t be that much).

I personally recon’ its 1 and they have good lawyers (hey he made south park, he HAS to know some good lawyers :slight_smile: )

The question then becomes how much license the performer has to grant permission to use the character. Say Sarah Michelle Gellar does a RC sketch as Buffy, using a recognizable SMG-as-Buffy action figure. Obviously SMG is OK with the use of her voice and likeness being used for satirical/parody purposes, but presumably she doesn’t own the character and she’s probably sold any right she had for the use of her image as Buffy so that the owners of the character can license merchandising.

It’s the most clear example of parody I’ve ever seen. If this isn’t parody, then what is?

Of course, I’m no lawyer, and what is clearly parody to me may not be “legal” parody, I suppose.

Funny footnote, I’m told that SMG actually still has some hold on the likeness rights for her-as-Buffy, so there’s a permissions/fee issue involved when they do Buffy comic books, for instance.

I’m with the parody camp on this one.

Despite their strong “parody” defense, Robot Chicken has had to make some changes. The one that immediately springs to mind (and one that causes me much sadness) was a change to the “Voltron Gets Served” sketch. Initially, the song played during the scene was an apparent parody of DMX’s “Get It On The Floor” called “Work It Out On The Floor”, which was a damn funny tune and well-matched to the on-screen action. They must’ve received a legal threat or something, though, because re-airings and the DVD release both contain a song that’s not nearly as good and doesn’t match the on-screen action as well, clearly cobbled together in haste.

The original version is easy to find on the web; I think Google Video even has it under “Voltron Gets Served”. The song change really bummed me out, because the original was just so damn funny.

See, I knew, just knew even while I was typing it, that SMG would be a bad example.

Seth Green is the brains behind Robot Chicken. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s friends (or at least Hollywood-style acquaintances) with South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I’m sure they don’t have anything to do with making his show or vice versa.

Man I could have sworn one of them worked on RC as well… I stand corrected.

I thought Seth Green largely stole the concept from ToyFare magazine (2which has been running photocomics in the RC style for something close to 10 years now… but apparently the Toyfare folsk and Seth Green worked together to bring the concept to TV.

Bingo. This is a perfect example of fair use: you can’t effectively parody someone else’s work if you can’t incorporate parts of it into your parody.

She already has. After Chucky from Child’s Play is killed by evil Cabbage Patch Kids, there is no one who can stop them…except for Buffy! We then dissolve to see Sarah Michelle Gellar telling someone that “that’s how Season Eight [of Buffy] would have started.” I believe Sarah provided her own voice.
As for parody, I believe it does fall under fair use. Besides, isn’t there a disclaimer at the start of every episode which states that all names of characters and personalities are used as subjects of parody? (Although one sketch didn’t make it to DVD- whether Viacom complained about the use of Beavis and Butt-head or Time Warner’s DC subsidiary wouldn’t let the Cartoon Network subsidiary use the Teen Titans characters, I’m unsure.)

Robot Chicken was co-created by Green and Matthew Sinreich, a former editor of ToyFare magazine.

Fun notes about Robot Chicken - Seth’s able to pull some major voice guest talent on there, including his co-stars from Buffy, Family Guy, and even Greg the Bunny. Every episode (I’ve seen so far) has a special joke credit for Sarah Gellar and one for Mila Kunis as well.

I’d love to know if the voice of Brainy in the Smurfs parody was the original, because it was so spot-on… but Mark Hamill’s played Luke Skywalker, Sarah Michelle Gellar appeared as herself, and as Buffy; and the entire cast of That 70’s Show made an appearance. Ryan Seacrest also has played himself on the show.

That Luke Skywalker bit was hilarious. Going into all the plots of both Return of the Jedi and parts of the prequels. And it’s not that surprising Hamill agreed–he seems to not mind hamming it up with old Star Wars stuff and he does an awful lot of voice acting otherwise.

Don’t forget that Hammill also got to say what most of us thought when we found out that Luke and Leia were brother and sister.