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Parody Is Fair Use, Satire Is Not

Tarmack

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I've written a piece similar to this in various forum threads and at a certain point, my fingers get tired of doing the same things, so I figured I'd do one that I can just refer people to.

The vast majority of online content creators look at Fair Use rules and see the Parody provision, but they stop reading after getting it set in their mind that Parody just means funny (or attempting to be funny). By the legal definitions involved, this is not the case.

There are two kinds of "funny" defined in copyright law. The first is Parody and the second is Satire. They are not the same thing. I'm using the legally separate usages of these words as you will find in many dictionaries, they are considered the same thing.

A Parody is the utilization of a piece of content to make fun of that piece of content in some way. In my own research, there are numerous examples but Weird Al Yankovic takes the proverbial cake because his songs run the gamut of copyright and illustrate my point perfectly.

The Weird Al song Smells Like Nirvana is a Parody. He uses the base composition of the song Smells Like Teen Spirit in order to make fun of Nirvana as a band. The Fair Use connection is that logically, using a Nirvana song to make fun of Nirvana simply makes sense. There is an obvious, logical and expected reason behind why that source material was essential to the attempt at humour.

A Satire is the utilization of a piece of content to make fun of something entirely unrelated to that piece of source content. So to stick with the Weird Al example, he did a song called Amish Paradise where he uses the song Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio to make fun of the Amish. As you can see, there is no obvious reason why Coolio's song would need to be used because it has no connection to the Amish in any way. This use of copyrighted material is not protected under Fair Use.

There are other examples. A case was heard in 1997 where an artist retold the details of the OJ Simpson trial by mimicking the style and using similar titles from the Dr. Seuss story, The Cat In The Hat. It was called The Cat NOT In The Hat, a parody by Dr. Juice. This was rule not Fair Use as it was deemed Satire, not Parody due to there being no targeting of Dr. Seuss in the production. Essentially, there was no "need to use" Dr. Seuss material to make fun of the OJ Simpson trial.

This stuff is a very important distinction that many people don't consider or know. I've seen countless examples of people saying that they're doing Parodies, when in fact, they're just using popular music to make fun of random things, thinking they're protected. Well, they're not protected in any way.

Here is a great source on the topic of Fair Use cases in the US.
http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/cases/

And remember, Parody doesn't just mean funny. If you can't easily answer the question "Why did you need to use that copyrighted material?", then you probably didn't make a Parody.
 

Kath

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Once again I will sticky this :) Thanks for the great information.
 
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CCGxJauvil

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Awesome. Have to love lawyer talk in layman's terms :).
 

WarriorDan

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I've written a piece similar to this in various forum threads and at a certain point, my fingers get tired of doing the same things, so I figured I'd do one that I can just refer people to.

The vast majority of online content creators look at Fair Use rules and see the Parody provision, but they stop reading after getting it set in their mind that Parody just means funny (or attempting to be funny). By the legal definitions involved, this is not the case.

There are two kinds of "funny" defined in copyright law. The first is Parody and the second is Satire. They are not the same thing. I'm using the legally separate usages of these words as you will find in many dictionaries, they are considered the same thing.

A Parody is the utilization of a piece of content to make fun of that piece of content in some way. In my own research, there are numerous examples but Weird Al Yankovic takes the proverbial cake because his songs run the gamut of copyright and illustrate my point perfectly.

The Weird Al song Smells Like Nirvana is a Parody. He uses the base composition of the song Smells Like Teen Spirit in order to make fun of Nirvana as a band. The Fair Use connection is that logically, using a Nirvana song to make fun of Nirvana simply makes sense. There is an obvious, logical and expected reason behind why that source material was essential to the attempt at humour.

A Satire is the utilization of a piece of content to make fun of something entirely unrelated to that piece of source content. So to stick with the Weird Al example, he did a song called Amish Paradise where he uses the song Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio to make fun of the Amish. As you can see, there is no obvious reason why Coolio's song would need to be used because it has no connection to the Amish in any way. This use of copyrighted material is not protected under Fair Use.

There are other examples. A case was heard in 1997 where an artist retold the details of the OJ Simpson trial by mimicking the style and using similar titles from the Dr. Seuss story, The Cat In The Hat. It was called The Cat NOT In The Hat, a parody by Dr. Juice. This was rule not Fair Use as it was deemed Satire, not Parody due to there being no targeting of Dr. Seuss in the production. Essentially, there was no "need to use" Dr. Seuss material to make fun of the OJ Simpson trial.

This stuff is a very important distinction that many people don't consider or know. I've seen countless examples of people saying that they're doing Parodies, when in fact, they're just using popular music to make fun of random things, thinking they're protected. Well, they're not protected in any way.

Here is a great source on the topic of Fair Use cases in the US.
http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/cases/

And remember, Parody doesn't just mean funny. If you can't easily answer the question "Why did you need to use that copyrighted material?", then you probably didn't make a Parody.
Great explanation, and something well-worth remembering when making parody videos. Nice job writing this! :up2:
 

Tarmack

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If something is actually a parody, though, what does that mean for disputing copyright claims?
It means that you have legal grounds to dispute a copyright strike as far as is possible by YouTube capability. In order for the strike to stay, the company has to be willing to sue you. Which of course they won't, if you made a true Parody.
 
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Lightsen

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Its definitely a confusing topic, but seems so simple the way you have put it. :) I do parody myself, which I assume is true parody as using the likeness of characters to make fun of them. It probably gets more complicated with artwork involved, as that itself is owned by the original drawer, but the likeness isn't. If you know what I mean
 

Idec Sdawkminn

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I spoke with a business lawyer today about using copyrighted content for parody and claiming Fair Use. He watched my most popular video, said he liked it more than the original, but said he couldn't give me a definite answer. Fair Use is a huge gray area and it really depends on the interpretation of the court. One video could rule Fair Use in one court and not in another. He said that even the expert copyright scholars get surprised frequently at court rulings. If I wanted a more detailed and in-depth answer, I would have to pay an attorney to research and find similar court cases and how they turned out, but that I could probably find much of that on my own. He said the only real way to get an answer would be to have it actually go to court. At the end of the call he said he'd watch some of my other videos (not sure if he was doing it to get a better idea or he just genuinely wanted to watch them) and said that he'd show them to some of his other colleagues and see if they had any more insight.

After looking for court cases similar to my style of videos, I did find one of interest. Oddly enough, this one would seem like satire more than parody to me: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/landmark-copyright-lawsuit-cariou-v-prince-is-settled/