On December 12th, Star Wars Theory, a popular Star Wars-focused YouTube channel, uploaded the first episode in their Darth Vader fan film series, Vader Episode 1: Shards of the Past. The series follows Darth Vader in the aftermath of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as he follows the Emperor’s commands, and the first episode sees the Sith Lord lured to Naboo by a Jedi Master who survived Order 66:
Yet on January 15th, Star Wars Theory posted a video to their channel explaining that Vader Episode 1 had been hit with a copyright claim by Disney and Warner Chappel (who own the rights to Star Wars and the rights to Star Wars music respectively):
In the video, Star Wars Theory details how he had approached Lucasfilm before production on Vader started, asking permission to monetize the fan film, respected their denial, and moved forward on production of Vader with his own funds:
I went to Lucasfilm and said “I want to make a Vader fan film. Can I crowdfund? Can I monetize it, can I get some sort of payback from the money I’m going to be putting into this, to make this for the fans?” And they’re like “Nope, you can’t crowdfund. Nope, you can’t make money from it.” If you didn’t know, YouTube is my career, and I’m lucky enough to say that. To not monetize something is like you going to work and not getting paid for your job. It was a bit of a decision, but I realized that you know what, it’s just something I really want to do, and I did it. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done.
The agreement was honored, and as per Lucasfilm’s request, Vader Episode 1 was not monetized, and no revenue was being provided to Star Wars Theory based on his fan film. Thus, Star Wars Theory was allowed to proceed on production of Vader.
Star Wars Theory then goes on to explain that ads would now be running on Vader, but that all revenue would be going directly to Disney and Warner Chappel and detail the initial reason given for the copyright strike against his video:
But now, money is going to be going to Disney and Warner Chappel. And they have claimed the video, the whole movie, because there was a piece in there that uses apparently a rendition of the Imperial March. Now if you didn’t know I hired a composer to basically compose the music based on John William’s themes. It’s not about the money for me. I don’t care.
In a follow-up video posted on January 15th, Star Wars Theory states that he had finally heard a response from Warner Chappel concerning their decision to strike his channel with a copyright claim:
Now the company Warner Chappel, which is under Disney, has responded to my network. My network is kind of like an agent if you’re an actor. They basically said ‘If you appeal this decision, it’s ours, we’re gonna take the money from it, then we’re gonna strike your channel, which is Youtube’s guidelines, and we’re going to delete the video anyway.
They claim even though it is not a direct rip of the Imperial March, it still uses the main themes and music from Star Wars. Their take is, that they own the rights to the composition and publishing for the entire Star Wars catalogue, that any covers, renditions, or re-recordings fall under the protected copyright.
Star Wars Theory goes on to state that production will continue on the second episode of Vader and that the Star Wars Theory channel is “not going anywhere, baby. We’re just getting started” despite the legal complications surrounding the first episode.
However, in a surprisingly positive turn of events, the outrage and criticism raised by Star Wars fans in support of Star Wars Theory’s situation caught the attention of an unlikely ally who was able to help them remove the claim against their channel: Lucasfilm. As Star Wars Theory explains in his video statement:
Lucasfilm spoke to either Disney or the other company, and they said ‘You have altered the deal, and this is not going to stand. We don’t accept this, you take that claim down right now, and that’s exactly what happened, guys. The claim has been released. The film no longer is running ads, it is now back to the fans entirely. No one’s making money off of it.
What do you think of Lucasfilm stepping in to take action on behalf of Star Wars Theory? Was this a positive or detrimental move for Disney regarding their handling of the Star Wars property?