“It’s 2020 and government is everywhere encroaching on our lives from all directions,” an actor pretending to be Doc Brown says as he clambers into a DeLorean. “Remember to help change the future before it’s too late,” he proclaims as the video draws to a sudden halt.
This kitschy re-imagining of Back to the Future can be found on the website 102115.com, which has absolutely nothing to do with the film series. It is a thinly veiled attempt to gain supporters and financial contributions for Carly for America, a prominent PAC raising money for Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. At the bottom of the page is a disclosure, hidden from immediate sight, saying the organization is responsible for the site.
The name of the site is clearly a play on the seminal date referenced in Back to the Future Part II, which was rehashed Wednesday by every political ad campaign and branded tweet on the planet.
But the Carly for America site particularly roused the ire of Bob Gale, the writer of the film sequel. He told The Daily Beast that he plans to pursue legal action against the PAC.
“I was alerted to the misuse of the BTTF IP [Back to the Future intellectual property] by the Fiorina campaign the other night,” Gale said through a representative in an email exchange. “I sent the info to Universal’s legal dept with instructions to send them a C&D [cease and desist] letter.”
“It’s our position that the BTTF characters and IP should NEVER be associated with ANY politician, ANY campaign or ANY political issue,” he added.
Universal Studios said it was aware of Gale’s complaint Wednesday and said many corporations had approached the company about using footage from the film but couldn’t confirm whether Carly for America had asked for permission to use an iconic character and car.
Roni Lubliner, a spokeswoman for Universal Studios Media Licensing, told The Daily Beast that the use of footage or likenesses from the film franchise to promote a product would be problematic.
“It’s basically fair use in the vein of today,” she said referring to the date referenced in the film. Beyond that, she said, it would require proper licensing.
That being said, the studio is letting Gale dictate this on his terms.
Copyright experts told The Daily Beast that even using the video in the context of a proxy-political ad would not hold up in court.
“The video is not a fair use. There is nothing transformative about it, and use for political purposes is not a defense,” said Peter S. Sloane, a partner at the law firm Leason Ellis. “It just seems like one more example of campaigns and their supporters disregarding, willfully or otherwise, U.S. intellectually property laws.”
“I think you have a good argument that it’s a violation of rights,” James Weinberger of law firm Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C., told The Daily Beast. But he said he didn’t think the use was egregious enough to land anybody in court and suspects that at most the site would just take the video down.
“My gut is if this ever went anywhere, this is probably not much of a damages case,” Weinberger said, explaining that no money would have to change hands to settle the complaint. “Maybe they take it down today and it’s a non-issue.”
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the video was still up.
Katie Hughes, Carly for America’s communications director, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether the organization spoke to Universal Studios before making the video and how many sign-ups or donations it has received since its launch. Instead, she replied to The Daily Beast with an endorsement of the candidate.
“We don’t need a time machine to know what another four years of failed liberal policies will bring us,” she wrote in an email exchange. “We have been living in an alternate reality where America no longer leads and families across the country are struggling to make ends meet. It's time for Americans to imagine what is possible again. It will take a leader who can deliver like Carly Fiorina to bring our government into the future. We need Carly Fiorina to change the course of history and bring us back to a future of strength and prosperity.”
Fiorina’s campaign, for its part, claimed Tuesday that it had no idea what the site was during the period when it was showing only a countdown clock. Asked what Fiorina thought about the website, spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores emailed: “I signed up for it last night. So...that was our reaction:)”
She added that Secretariat is Fiorina’s favorite movie and that the candidate “thought [the Back to the Future films] were entertaining.”
It is unclear what will happen to the site, if anything, but it’s certainly making Gale rethink any potential presidential endorsements.
“We are supporting the Brown/McFly ticket for 2016: If they screw things up, at least they can go back and fix it!” the writer declared.