Archive for October, 2010
Parody, Fair Use, Or Copyright Infringement?
Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
A recent question asked whether a project was a permissible “parody” of a preexisting work, or whether the project was too close to the original and was therefore an impermissible rip off – a/k/a copyright infringement.
The answer can be maddeningly complex, and frustratingly (or entertainingly) fact specific.
First the basics: An “idea” is not copyright protectable – an “idea” is too general.
What is copyright protectable is the specific execution of an idea.
A “comedy about a family” is not copyright protectable – it’s just an idea, and far too general. But the specific characters and setting and plot and other myriad details of a specific family, such as The Simpsons, are copyright protectable; because of the specific execution of the details of the idea. And therefore another specific, unique execution of the same idea is also separately, independently, copyright protectable, such as The Family Guy.
Each specific execution is protected from being copied without the authorization of the owner.
But beyond those general rules, the U.S. Copyright Act excuses certain circumstances that would otherwise be impermissible copying.
One of those certain circumstances is what is commonly known as “fair use.” More accurately, the “fair use defense,” because technically it is a legal defense to having been sued for copyright infringement.
Parody is one of those “fair uses.” But not a specifically listed use – or even a clearly referenced use. So much for the basics – now onto the specifics.
Or at least the basics… of the specifics.
Four factors are considered in analyzing whether a use was a “fair use.”
1. The purpose and character of the use of the original copyrighted work – commercial or non-commercial; whether a Section 107 favored purpose – criticism, comment, scholarship, research, news reporting or teaching; the degree of transformation from the purpose of the original to the purpose of the new work;
2. The nature of the copyrighted work – certain types of work are more deserving of protection than others;
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used of the copyrighted work – in relation to the whole of the copied work; and
4. The effect on the potential market or value of the copyrighted work.
An interlude – Mr. Webster’s definition of “parody” – “a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule; a feeble or ridiculous imitation.” Synonyms include: burlesque, caricature, put-on, rib, send-up, spoof, takeoff, travesty.
So by it’s very nature, a parody MUST closely resemble or reference the original enough for the audience to recall the original, but not so much as to actually BE infringement – thereby “fair use.”
But because parody takes so many forms, bright line, preemptive rules are next to impossible.
Nevertheless, to qualify as a parody the new work PROBABLY should, at the least, (referencing the fair use rules above)
1. aim for comment and/or criticism – not necessarily of the original work, but of something that is shown by the contrast between the original and the parody; and therefore is transformative from the purpose of the original to a new purpose (the original was serious, the new is silly). For example…
A federal court found that one of these photos was a permissible fair use parody of the other. Although very similar in a number of respects, details of lighting, shading, and facial expression made one a parody, as opposed to an impermissible copy.
(But which is the parody…?) (What made you choose the one you chose?)
2. regarding the nature of the copyrighted original work…? OK, a bit of a blind alley here. Admittedly this fair use factor is of little use in determining parody – as even the U.S. Supreme Court agrees (in the “2 Live Crew” case).
3. use an amount and substantiality of the original as is necessary to recall and reference the original, but then inserting sufficient originality (and presumably originality that is mocking or critiquing or deriding or insulting or jeering or taunting or in some way chiding) as to separate the intended parody from the purpose of the original.
The photos above differ in very subtle but very significant ways – sufficient to qualify as parody in that instance.
This one is particularly hard – because it’s a bit like trying to define “funny.” Sometimes a very tricky thing to explain:
Interlude Part Deaux: Tommy DeVito: … I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
Henry Hill: Just… you know, how you tell the story, what?
Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don’t know, you said it. How do I know? You said I’m funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what’s funny!
And, Interlude: The Final Insult: A mashup of the Charles Schultz Peanuts characters giving voice to the GoodFellas dialog above. The Peanuts characters, the video of the Peanuts characters and the dialog from Goodfellas are each separately copyright protected content. So is the mashup a copyright violation, or permissible parody?
And is it funny? (if you answered “no,” seek counseling).
And the last of the fair use rules; 4. the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the original work.
But this too is of only limited use in determining parody because usually the owner of the original work would not grant a license (a purchased permission) to the parody artist; so an uncompensated fair use of the original material would not deprive the holder of the original work from a payment; the original material’s owner wouldn’t take the money even if it was offered.
Therefore fair use reference of the original in the parody typically would not affect the market or value of the original.
Parody – it’s just that simple!
Obviously not at all simple.
Which is why it may be important to involve an entertainment attorney early in your creative process, before you have spent months or years writing the script, or developing and producing the film – only to find out that it is NOT a fair use parody. But is instead an impermissible copyright violation, likely to be shut down the moment it sees the light of day.
Additional (and dense) reading:
Luther R. Campbell aka Luke Skyywalker, et. al., Petitioners v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 114 S.Ct. 1164, 127 L.Ed.2d 500 (S.Ct. 1994);
Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 137 F.3d 109 (2nd Cir. 1998)
As an entertainment attorney, my focus is protecting and advancing your project. Please contact me at your convenience if I may be of assistance.
Disclaimer: The above is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create any attorney/client relationship. Please seek legal counsel regarding your specific projects and needs.
The Changing Music Industry
Monday, October 25th, 2010
A fantastic article in The Economist on the changing music industry. It’s not dying, but the change is a killer for many. Thanks to Mark Mazzetti of Record Company in a Box for forwarding.
2010 USC Institute on Entertainment Law and Business
Sunday, October 24th, 2010
Saturday I attended the 2010 USC Institute on Entertainment Law & Business – terrific speakers on the state and future of the industry. The quality of the topics was exceeded only by the high caliber and knowledge of the speakers.
• The section on the Asian film market. While it’s accurate to say that China and India are a “developing” film market for the American and European film industries, it is also a gross understatement. These countries are already a huge market opportunity for the right films. They will grow exponentially in a very short time. And they are beginning to be enter the arena for American film investment.
• The luncheon keynote by Sony’s Chairman & CEO, Michael Lynton, whose wide ranging conversation reflected on the past, and informed about the future of film, television, new media, 3D in theaters and homes, and how the new generation of entertainment consumers will interact with media in ways we can’t yet imagine.
• The segment on digital distribution and the evolution from the DVD model, to Netflix/Redbox, to Video-on-Demand, purchase vs. rental/timed access, and all the many permutations beyond – multiple devices, revenue models, and where it’s all headed.
• The session on Negotiating TV Deals with Media Giants – authoritative advice and opinion from those representing talent, and counterpoint from representatives of two media giants, Twentieth Century Fox Television and CBS Television.
A terrific day of deepening knowledge and meeting others in the industry.
I even met an attorney from Louisiana who is the cousin of a college roommate! Weird.
My “On The Page” Interview is Up!
Saturday, October 16th, 2010
My interview with screenwriting teacher and consultant Pilar Alessandra is now up and available!
Our wide ranging conversation was focused on Legal and Business Do’s and Don’ts for screenwriters, and covered many hypotheticals and real world, practical obstacles faced by screenwriters, filmmakers and other creative professionals.
Pilar’s “On The Page” Podcast is a constant source of great information about the craft and business of screenwriting.
From substantive writing lessons, to the information shared by her writer, producer and director guests (and the occasional entertainment attorney), the podcast is a must for those trying to elevate their talent and knowledge. I’ve been a longtime listener, and have found the information invaluable.
My podcast episode is Episode 162, available through iTunes. Full access to this, and all other OnThePage episodes requires a subscription – well worth the meagre cost considering the wealth of screenwriting instruction the Podcast delivers.
Thanks again Pilar! I throughly enjoyed it.
“On The Page” Interview to Air October 15th
Thursday, October 7th, 2010
This week I had the honor of being interviewed on Pilar Alessandra’s excellent Podcast “On The Page,” a fantastic source of information about the craft and business of screenwriting.
The topic for the interview was “Legal and Business Do’s and Don’ts for Screenwriters,” although we had a wide ranging discussion covering life rights, the newly released movie “The Social Network,” WGA versus U.S. Copyright office script registration, story and idea theft, and plenty of other information useful to writers and filmmakers alike.
The interview will air on October 15th, via the On The Page website and through iTunes.
Thanks Pilar! it was a pleasure.