The best fan video in the world?

Via Top Gear’s blog, I found this link to a fan-made Top Gear style search for the beat driving road in California:

The Californians were disappointed that Top Gear dismissed the entirety of North America while searching for the best driving road in the world. So, they went to look for the best driving road in California and ended up creating an hour-long film chronicling their journey, in the style of Top Gear.
And they get the Top Gear style dead on.
Three white male presenters embark on a road trip in different cars, each of which represents a different interpretation of a common theme. In this fan film, the theme is sporty cars purchased for less than $5,000. A driver in a racing helmet sets lap times and a marker to race against (ala The Stig.) The three presenters compete in various challenges and comment on their respective cars and how a particular drive represents a broader theme about motoring, masculinity, nationality, or some metaphor for life. During the road trip, the three presenters are filmed from dashboard mounted cameras. Often, a presenter’s voiceover narration melds seamlessly into thoughts spoken while driving during the road trip. Scenes open with a camera zooming out from a car or panning across a landscape with the frames heavily vignetted vignetting. Liberal use of shots of the 3 presenters driving alongside on the highway and the way in which music is used in the soundtrack all follow the Top Gear style.
Does that make it a copyright infringement?
If enough of the elements that make up Top Gear are borrowed, is the style used in a manner consistent with fair use? This is a non-commercial, non-competitive work that responds to a particular segment filmed on Top Gear. The Search for the Greatest Driving Road in California adopts the style to respond to and parody Top Gear. The creators sought to call out Top Gear for their snub of California’s roads– in other words, to criticize Top Gear, by showing that Top Gear could have found a road in California worthy of comparison with those in the Alps.
Were this a pilot for a series commissioned by a network, would this be an infringing work? (A pilot for an American version of Top Gear, starring Adam Corolla, was made for and ultimately passed on by NBC last year.)

3 Comments

  1. I agree, I don’t think that this fan videos or interpretations of any program, could be interpreted as copyright infringement, since they are not profiting of it, if amateurs make such a good work they must be prized, never blame for infringing law.

  2. Hi, director of the film here — and I’m actually an attorney with an interest in IP/copyright myself. When we were preparing to make and release this film, there were discussions about potential infringement and we made a few conscious choices as a result.
    However, most of the similarities between our film and Top Gear itself would likely be considered scènes à faire that exist in many, if not all, motoring programs. But moreover, and as is hinted at in your post, were we ever challenged on this, I would argue that our film fits squarely into the “fair use/parody” exception recognized in the 2 Live Crew case. We made it pretty clear that our film is a riff on the original; even referencing Top Gear in the title. And of course, from a practical standpoint, we’re not making any money on this, nor are we out to.
    So needless to say, the BBC’s lawyers have not been banging down my door. From the sound of things, the Top Gear production office got a kick out of seeing our film, which we think is great.

  3. Chris,
    Thanks for commenting and and sharing a bit about your process.
    I recall starting to write much more detail about fair use, but certainly agree that whatever stylistic elements are shared with TG are used in order to directly rebut Clarkson’s assertion that North America as a place where one could find a great driving road. And then proceeds to show that it’s possible to make an entertaining travelogue based on that idea. Combined with facts that it’s non-commercial and non-competitive and likely to have no effect on the market for Top Gear TV or web video, this film is a good example of fan-made work that’s inspired by other works, but is both transformative and well done.

Comments are closed.