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What is "parody"?

What is a parody? 

Please note: This article should not be interpreted as legal advice, nor should it be interpreted as creating any kind of attorney-client or legal advisor relationship. You should not rely upon the legal information or opinions provided, and you should consult with your personal legal advisor. You are solely responsible for any legal decisions or actions you take or omissions you commit.

Parody is a specific application of the fair use doctrine that allows people to reuse an original copyrighted work without infringing on the content owner's copyright if they do so in a transformative manner to poke fun at or comment on the original work itself. Like any other instance of fair use, you have to apply the four factors. Read the article on fair use.

Several court cases have interpreted and found parodies to be fair use. One of the earliest cases was Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., which allowed the band 2 Live Crew to use Roy Orbison’s lyrics from the song “Oh, Pretty Woman.” In 1994, the US Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of 2 Live Crew since they felt that the band was using the song's lyrics in a way that poked fun at Orbison's original copyrighted work.

However, other court cases have ruled against others who believed their works to be parodies. For example, the toy company GoldieBlox thought they were fairly engaging in parody by using the Beastie Boys' song "Girls" in a viral video ad. But in 2014 GoldieBlox wound up having to pay a settlement to the Beastie Boys and issue a public apology.

How does this matter for YouTubers? If you're doing a parody of an original work, that parody must be "transformative" and either poke fun at the original copyrighted work or offer commentary on it. But as you can see, whether a work constitutes a parody is a very difficult analysis, so you should be careful and thoughtful before assuming that your work would be treated as a parody.

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