Is Honest Trailer really honest?

How many times have you gone to a movie based on the trailer only to find that the movie’s trailer was misleading and didn’t tell the real story? I know I’ve sat in the theater excited to watch a film only to end up half way through it wondering what the heck the writers were thinking! If you’re like me, you might find yourself analyzing the movie’s messages and begin to wonder if the movie has a hidden agenda.  Honest Trailer does this type of thinking for you. This example of Honest Trailer: The Little Mermaid already has over four million views and is currently trending on Google Trends this week in the YouTube category. It takes a seemingly innocent, animated movie and turns it into a different story spun from a darker, more cynical perspective. And although there may be some truth in there somewhere, it’s still a cartoon!

But what’s the real picture here (pun intended!)? Is Honest Trailer’s use of Disney’s copyrighted content in this manner legal? Or did Honest Trailer find a loophole? Movie critics, after all, have been around for a long time showing us snippets of movies here and there to spin their own reviews that ultimately give films a thumbs up or a thumbs down. All of this, however, is sanctioned by the studios who provide and allow critics to show the movie clips. But movie studios do not allow critics to alter or tamper with these clips, which appears to be the issue here. This brings into question copyright infringement laws in the case of Honest Trailer. Do they have the right to use this copyrighted content?  Copyright infringement laws, after all, are put in place to protect owner’s content from being used without permission.

Some argue that the use of parody is protected under copyright law and therefore gives the green light to this type of entertainment. Is this the type of protection that Honest Trailer hides behind? Or is the fact that Honest Trailer is featured on an online media platform the reason they get away with this type of potential misuse of Disney’s content?

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6 Responses to Is Honest Trailer really honest?

  1. Chanel says:

    I’m not going to lie, I ended up spending hours on watching other honest trailers…so funny (okay not hours but I watched three more haha). I honestly have no clue on whether or not this is even legal. Not sure what the rules are but I know if you make it blatantly obvious that the content is not yours and you give credit where credit is due it’s “okay” (whatever that means). I’m not really sure if these videos really truly do that. Although I noticed in the information section they do a very short small shoutout to Disney….the video itself didn’t really say Disney or make it explicitly clear. From what I recall even YouTube and online platforms are not exempt from copyright law…maybe they somehow got permission? No idea…I did notice they do A LOT of Disney movies.

  2. Amy says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been living under a rock this semester and didn’t even know about these videos! They are so funny! I’m also someone who looks for the deeper messages in movies and think some of these trailers are right on. I don’t know if this is a copyright infringement but you bring up a good point. I don’t think the laws have been able to keep pace with the new media and the different ways people are using them to share content. There are so many users that copyright issues really can’t be found until a video goes viral. But like Chanel says they do credit Disney with a shoutout so it might be ok? I’m going to have to look into this. Thanks!

  3. Bob Simpson says:

    Good topic for your post, Linda. Your comments on Honest Trailers (one of the funniest video series on the internet, in my opinion) harken back to a legal battle a few years ago between Tommy Wiseau, insane, enigmatic creator of the “The Room,” the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, and internet movie critic, The Nostalgia Critic. The Critic reviewed and heavily criticized “The Room” on one of his episodes (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand how this wasn’t hard), and Wiseau threatened legal action against him unless he took the video down, citing copyright infringement. The Critic, and virtually every other non-sanctioned internet reviewer, battled against the legal threat stating that the review was a form of parody. The key here is that parody is a form of protected free speech, bringing it under the purview of the 1st Amendment, trumping any copyright laws that content owners might cite. Whether or not that is fair is to be determined, I’m sure, and both arguments have merit. Thanks for bringing up this topic!

  4. Verne says:

    Linda,
    Very interesting post. I agree with Bob that it’s highly dependent on their ability to spin this a parody. I would assume they shouldn’t have too much trouble doing that with all the changes they made to the songs and even some visual element.

    But more than the legal, it is fascinating what people can draw out of any story. Perspective is everything. I have friends who are hilarious and annoying because they have the talent of highlighting things from a perspective unintended by the presenter. These friends could take whatever I say and spin it to say something different than I intended. Then as I tried to correct, they would continue to change the meaning of what I was saying until I just gave up. It was really annoying to have done to me, but really funny to watch. I suspect there are very similar feeling for the movie creators who are being parodied by Honest Trailers.

  5. Meradyth says:

    Hahahaha. After reading your post and watching the trailer I’m not sure I can give an intelligent answer to the question posed. I think that trailer is absolutely hilarious and will probably watch more of them. It definitely walks the fine line of copyrighted content for Disney, but many people/companies use comedy as a shield to distribute this type of entertainment. I’m not sure where I stand on the topic, but I’m sure as these become even more popular it will become an issue.

  6. Graham says:

    Hi Linda,
    Excellent topic and solid post. Copyright infringement is a big deal but as juggernaut of a brand Disney would quickly be seen as picking on the little guy if they went after the Honest Trailer crew. Also, by continuing to discuss their old work (even if only to criticize) I’d say that Honest Trailer actually is keeping The Little Mermaid and other films like it socially relevant. Your point about the legality of it all is a fun one to explore. I’d say that this isn’t really a parody issue, it’s a freedom of speech issue. To censor these guys would probably only strengthen their case and bring more attention to their points.

    Well done!