Time to put down the Boba Fett figures and get out of the sandbox. Disney wants you out of its playground.
A recent GQ spread unveiled last week featured funny girl and Trainwreck star Amy Schumer in bed with C3P-O and R2-D2 and lightsabers in her mouth. Naturally, it caused a minor kerfuffle, predictably by people who would typically be offended by this kind of thing. Disney and LucasFilm were among them and quickly distanced themselves from the spread.
How did a popular magazine and a comedian with a successful TV show get away with bedding with the most universally recognized and copyright-protected robots? Good old fashioned parody law.
“Parody, which falls under a fair use analysis in United States copyright law, is considered pretty broadly as long as you can say that you are making fun of the thing being used,” Brad Newberg said. Newberg is an intellectual property partner at the law firm of McGuireWoods LLP, whose practice is almost entirely copyright and trademark law.
This is a big part of Schumer’s comedy: Taking seemingly innocent subjects or tones and quickly devolving into profane or sexually graphic jokes. The fact she’s using family-friendly characters to be sexually explicit is what makes these images safe legally; she’s parodying their original context.
“She’s also not using the characters in any sort of story line, so while character images are copyrightable, she can make an even stronger case that she is … just twisting the way we think about iconic images,” Newberg continued.
But Star Wars long maintained a diplomatic relationship with fan works, parodies, and other unofficial fan things before Disney ran the program. George Lucas, despite putting up with being called the devil for years by the people who revere his work (there’s an entire documentary around this phenomenon) had always welcomed spoofs of his galaxy from far, far away.
So long as the spoof wouldn’t be harmful to merchandising, according to Newberg in speaking to Polygon, then Lucas was game. Nothing spoofed in Robot Chicken, Family Guy, or even Spaceballs was any more offensive than Schumer sucking C3P-O’s finger.
But Disney, the family-friendly dream empire that it is, isn’t showing as much sport as Lucas did. Perhaps the high-profile visibility of the GQ mag in grocery stores contributes more to Disney’s anxiousness than reruns of Robot Chicken on Adult Swim do, but Schumer’s spread also points to a new, dimmer beginning in Star Wars fandom. We’re getting new movies from now until forever, so Disney is politely asking us to stop having sex with it.