SILENCED FILMMAKER HITS BACK AT PLASTICINE GIANTS
Written by Blake Neale, December 2014. (Click here to jump to Addendum - 4th February 2015)

Carry On Wallace & Gromit was a short-lived internet hit released in September 2014 by British filmmaker Blake Neale, a lifelong fan of Wallace & Gromit, who'd spent 18 months building the film from scratch.

In just three days it had been seen 10,542 times and even reached front page of Metro News' website - then the killjoys at Aardman blocked the film worldwide for reasons of "copyright infringement".

Had the film not been entered into a competition run by Aardman themselves, who actively encouraged fans to exploit their copyrighted assets1 (characters, likeness, soundbites and music) in creative and derivative ways, the claim of "copyright infringement" would have been fair game.

Alas, no. Despite Carry On Wallace & Gromit being a direct response to their open brief, submitted as part of a long-standing competition without breaking any rules set out by the plasticine giants, they still forced the content offline. Their imposed block is unwarranted and comes across as incredibly petty.


Bafflingly, in addition to encouraging1 this practice in the first place, Aardman has publicly approved2 this exact use of their material amongst the work of other fans, going so far as to praise entrants for splicing entire shots into their own homemade productions, most without adding anything new to them3. Some of the more creative efforts even pass themselves off as official. A fake trailer on YouTube, for example, that juxtaposes footage from Wallace & Gromit with audio and video from the Saw horror movie franchise is particularly disturbing, breaks all the character roles of Wallace & Gromit, and even claims to be made by Aardman - yet has remained online and unblocked since 2006, reaching over a million views.

As well as adhering to the rules of the competition, lawyers have confirmed that, with the parody amendments to the Copyright Law in statute, Carry On Wallace & Gromit did not infringe any copyrights. And where it is instantly distinguishable as a parody and uses a mere 0.13% (calculated precisely) of the animation company's entire library of Wallace & Gromit creative output, approval of the copyright holders was not legally required anyway. (See: Copyright Law, 1st October 2014)

Here's an extract from the Intellectual Property Office's Exceptions to Copyright guide:


(Full IPO Exceptions to Copyright guide here.)

 

Aardman themselves have acknowledged that Carry On Wallace & Gromit:

"does not relate back to any of our original work or invoke any of our copyrighted work" - Aardman

So quite why the iron fist of these monumental Aarsholes still saw fit to crash down upon this film, forcing its removal from YouTube and Vimeo regardless, goes beyond logic: if it "does not" invoke any of their copyrighted work, what's the problem?

They also failed to reply to any of the four emails, further two letters and three appeals (through YouTube) sent to them during the two months the alleged "infringement" was being "evaluated", which is just plain rude. The only feedback received - when YouTube forced their hand to comment to uphold their block - was the letter shown below, sent over two months after the original upload:

Contrary to what the letter says, there was no correspondence with Neil Warwick - or anyone else at Aardman for that matter4. This letter marks the first piece of correspondence. Then, after being challenged on their statement that Carry On Wallace & Gromit does not invoke any of their copyrighted work (and asking who Neil Warwick* was), they then sent their first (and only) reply. It read:

"For clarity, we are removing your video from YouTube on grounds of copyright infringement (we do not believe the defence of parody is applicable in these circumstances) and trademark infringement." - Aardman

A complete contradiction of their own correspondence, there. (Correspondence that actually existed, anyway.) And a completely outdated application of Copyright Law.

It's disappointing to observe first hand that Aardman treat their fans with such disrespect. Then again, they've probably spent so much time pissing about with plasticine characters that they no longer know how to interact with real people.

With no clear indication as to what specifically rustled their jimmies, the copious innuendo riddled throughout the first half of the film stands out as likely main offender. However it is exactly that: innuendo. The plot is entirely innocent if watched through to the end and children will take the dialogue (and accompanying sound effects) at face value, oblivious to any ulterior motives of any double entendre used. In fact, children are likely to see the plot twist coming a mile off where they'll interpret the events of the film very literally; it's only adult minds that corrupt what is being heard - and that's the whole point of the film.

The word "prejudicial" is used in Aardman's letter but it is is worth remembering that the latest Wallace & Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, features a whole montage rife with visual metaphors for sex that are by no means accidental given someone's had to model and animate all of these shots by hand. However, as with the blocked fan film, no child would ever pick up on this subtext in the slightest.

How then is Carry On Wallace & Gromit "potentially prejudicial" to Aardman's brand when it is significantly less explicit than events they depict in their own films? Surely it would be a complete double standard for Aardman to find issue with an entirely innocent fan film that simply uses innuendo for a plot twist when they themselves have strongly implied actual sexual relations as part of the official Wallace & Gromit canon.

Regardless, the whole narrative of this fan film was painstakingly constructed around a plot twist to keep the characters squeaky clean. It would have been significantly easier - shaving off months of production - to make the film without the twist that exonerates any suggested naughtiness heard before. Aardman's films are masterful in this pull back and reveal execution of joke delivery so this matches their style of storytelling with aplomb. So again, their decision to block this fan film is… inexplicable. And, again, as the Intellectual Property Office says:

"[parody] can be used to comment on any theme or target" - IPO

At this present time there is no authority** to support Aardman's assertion that there is no parody defence in relation to this material. However, where their lawyers refused to accept that this film satisfies the fair dealing requirement and is exempt under a clause of Copyright Regulations (being a clear parody), the next step for them to uphold their ownership was possible court action.

While lawyers were confident that Aardman would struggle to bring a court claim against his film, Blake didn't want to lose any further time, sleep or money over all this - having already lost all respect for a company he thought so fondly of for 25 years. Instead, he has spent an additional week reworking his film, focusing his frustrations on a new release to see the year out on a high. This version, Carry On Horace & Vomit, features entirely new characters that Blake owns all the rights to, including all visuals and soundtrack. You can watch it here:

The main joke isn't quite as punchy as it was before - but in this form it highlights the immense stupidity the original was faced with by Aardman, existing as a parody of their work instead of being a parody with their work. It won't achieve the acclaim or number of views the original received but that's hardly the point; he hopes it teaches them some manners.

The original film clearly wasn't thrown together in the space of a weekend but lovingly crafted over a long period of time - which, of all people, Aardman will have known from just looking at it. So wading in and blocking the film without anything in way of an explanation was unnecessarily insolent.

Blake's a reasonable chap; had they shown an ounce of decency and messaged him with anything in way of feedback regarding his animation (or dare it be said, praise for his efforts), then politely asked him to take it down for whatever reason, he would have obliged. It still would have been a disappointment, but he'd have been pleased to have at least received their professional feedback - and it would have been far less of a sting than the suckerpunch blow they delivered forcing it offline without a word spoken.

That said, Blake is happy to have featured on the front page of Metro's website, and is taking Aardman's behaviour as something of an inadvertent compliment - in that his film was clearly of a quality high enough to make them feel threatened by it. Even so, considering the original was an entry to their own competition and broke none of the rules they set out two years previously (which still stand to this day), it surely deserved more respect and recognition than it was met with - even had the outcome ultimately still resulted in the film being taken offline.

Instead of displaying such tyranny, Aardman could have handled this whole incident with far more grace and civility. But no, they were dicks. C'est la vie.

Additional:

The entire back catalogue of official Wallace & Gromit films (including the feature film) is available illegally on YouTube and Vimeo in full high definition, undermining the value of Aardman's original work and decreasing their revenue. Carry On Wallace & Gromit did neither.

Instead of blocking these offending videos, some of which uploaded as far back as 2010, Aardman have victimised a fan-made parody that surely served as a huge success story of their work inspiring others, as was the point of their competition in the first place.

All the more confusingly, their characters are widely "borrowed" in other mediums with seemingly no rebuke or censorship from Aardman either. The Times newspaper, for example, has published satirical cartoons prominently featuring the duo throughout 2014. While amusing, Peter Brookes' artworks have literally painted the duo as institutionally classist, stupid to the point of imminently committing accidental suicide, borderline racist, and one even featured Wallace wielding a blood-splattered axe - hardly representations of their characters Aardman are going for.


(Artist: Peter Brookes. Images © 2014 The Times)

Aardman have gone on record saying there will likely be no further official Wallace & Gromit films due to Peter Sallis' declining health, and they don't seem to be bothered5 that all of their films are freely available anyway. So again: what's the problem?

"He's not too well. It's a big question for us, whether to keep going... There's nothing planned at the moment." - Nick Park (ITV News)

 

This short film was breathing life into wilting classics, igniting interest among fresh, new audiences - and rekindling forgotten love of past audiences too.

Aardman appear to operate in double standards, contradicting their own initiatives (and correspondence), and, most depressing of all, lack a complete sense of humour.

If you can say that about the creators of Wallace & Gromit, it's a very sad day.

 

Written by Blake Neale
Writer & director of Carry On Horace & Vomit, film theorist and writer of lengthy, ranty articles from delayed Southeastern trains...

 

 

 


*There was no correspondence with Neil Warwick. As was established in Aardman's first and only reply: "Neil Warwick deals with our You Tube take downs so your emails were being sent to him." - Aardman.


**"Authority" in this context is a legal term that means there are no previous cases in history that have successfully disproved any piece of work as being a parody. As such, and with the new amendment to the statute, Aardman can't say with any authority that Carry On Wallace & Gromit does not satisfy the principles of fair dealing and the parody defence, and their stating otherwise merely stands as misinformed opinion.

 


1. (Addendum Footnote - 04/02/15) - Aardman have encouraged this behaviour by running a competition called Creation of the Month in which they have not blocked other entries for exploiting their copyrighted assets. The earliest one on their website dates back to 2007. Examples that use various combinations of their characters, likeness, soundbites and music can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. Seriously, there are loads of them.

2. (Addendum Footnote - 04/02/15) - Aardman has publicly approved this exact use of their material and praised entrants for doing so by awarding various entrants prizes in the competition, regardless of having exploited their copyright.

3. (Addendum Footnote - 04/02/15) - Various entrants have spliced lines of Aardman's audio and/or music into their own productions then animated their own picture to this audio. (Exactly as Blake has done.) Some have even edited entire shots from official W&G films into their own edits. Example of this here.

4. (Addendum Footnote - 04/02/15) - Until the first letter (shown as a scan in the article) there was no correspondence WITH Aardman. Blake reached out to them on numerous occasions, as stated, but until they had to respond to uphold their block on YouTube, they didn't correspond WITH him at all.

5. (Addendum Footnote - 04/02/15) - Blake informed Aardman that their entire library of films was available illegally on YouTube in September 2014 as part of his claim (to keep his original film online). They didn't acknowledge this, and simply searching "Wallace Gromit" on YouTube reveals copious illegal uploads of the exact same content. That is to say, their library of work is still available illegally.

 

ADDENDUM - 4TH FEBRUARY 2015

Aardman have responded to the above article in the form of a letter. In it, as well as warning Blake not to publish anything "improper or untrue", (which he actually hasn't), they claim his article breaches the Data Protection Act (DPA).

They have demanded he redacts the names of the Aardman employees mentioned in his article - along with a redaction of their lawyer's name, job title and signature included on a scan of their letter to him, as these constitute the apparent breach of the DPA. In event of noncompliance, they state they will contact Blake's Internet Service Provider (ISP) directly to have these items removed themselves.

Irrelevant of the fact ISPs merely provide access to the internet, so contacting them will achieve sod all, Aardman can't actually force privately-uploaded content offline without a court order. In any case this is not a breach of the Data Protection Act.

Personal data is defined in the Data Protection Act as follows:

"Personal data means data which relate to a living individual who can be identified –

(a) from those data, or
(b) from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller, and includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual."


- Information Commissioner's Office (ICO's website)

Nobody can be identified from JUST a name, job title and signature. That's like pulling a doctor's credit card out of a hat; unless you already know who it belongs to, it's just a random name of a doctor and a signature on a card. You can't identify a living individual from a credit card alone. The same concept applies here: you can't identify their lawyer just because you know their name, job title and what their signature looks like.

The signature has since been blanked out on the scanned letter regardless. This is NOT an admittance of error, it is because the article and new film were never meant as a personal dig at Aardman's lawyer - and fair enough, Blake wouldn't want his signature published online either. And his point is illustrated beautifully whether it is blanked out or not.

As for the names - a quick Google search using terms as basic as "Aardman" and "lawyer" reveals the name, job title, email address and even phone number of their lawyer anyway, the latter of which Blake had already blanked out in his original scan of the letter. So this is hardly privileged or private information. Two examples here and here.

And the other Aardman employee mentioned in the article has their name, job title and far more besides publicly posted on LinkedIn which can be found searching for "aardman linkedin video". So as well as not breaching the Data Protection Act, Blake has not outed anybody as working at Aardman either - where this information is already publicly available online.

On a side note, for a company apparently mindful of the Data Protection Act, it is worrying that they sent this letter through the post to Blake and forgot to actually include his house number as part of the address. Had Blake not been personal friends with a postman who sometimes works a round in his area, this letter marked "private & confidential" could potentially have been delivered to any one of 46 addresses (in the same postcode) by another postman in genuine error. And Blake could have been identified from web addresses contained within the letter had it been opened by anyone other than him.



(Blake is comfortable publishing this photograph of the envelope where the
most important/revealing part of his address has been omitted by Aardman.
Apparently since Christmas, he has occupied a whole suburban lane...)

Aardman have his full address from the letter they sent him two months before. So this faux pas is all the more embarrassing. And if they can't even write addresses down properly it's a wonder they manage to make films at all.

Hopefully this will be the last Blake says on this matter. He's bored of all this bullshit and wants to move on. He hates airing dirty laundry but after being painted as a copyright infringer (as a result of his original film being erroneously forced offline by YouTube - at Aardman's instruction) and being sent a vaguely scaremongering letter, he felt he needed to have his say. Wallace & Gromit hasn't even been that good since 1995 so carrying all this on just isn't worth it. Here's some paint drying.