The Motion Picture Association of America complained to Fanedit.org's Web host that the site hosted clips that violated the studios' copyright. The site operators then removed links to the re-spliced clips.
The site's administrator, who goes by the name Boon23, said he believes the mashups were lawful. "We thought it was seen as fair use and fan films," he wrote in an email to Online Media Daily.
While the growth of user-generated content--including re-edits--has spurred complaints from Hollywood in the past, few if any cases have actually been litigated. One reason, says Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohman, is that studios often complain directly to a Web host, who then removes the material.
"The MPAA is basically able to censor this stuff off the Internet without ever being forced to go to court," von Lohman said. Rather, the organization pressures the intermediaries to simply remove the content, and then drops the matter.
For sites like FanEdit.org, the benefit of that approach is that they never have to defend a lawsuit. But it also means that courts aren't considering whether these clips make fair use of copyrighted material.
There's no easy way to know whether courts would deem fan remixes a fair use, said Wendy Seltzer, a law professor at American University. "Many of them would clearly look like transformative uses, which favors fair use," Seltzer said. A work is "transformative" when it draws on the original in a way that significantly changes it. For instance, most parodies and criticism are considered transformative.
But courts might be less inclined to find fair use if the new product replaced the original. That is, if people downloaded a remix of a movie and watched that as a substitute for the original, that remix might not be considered fair use.
Film remixes first came to prominence in 2001, when professional editor Mike Nichols, under the pseudonym "The Phantom Editor," created a new, widely circulated version of "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace."