Longer Discussion of Parody
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Posted by Della Morse on May 27, 2001 at 03:18:49:
I'm going to mention various things I've read about parody, then describe my own planned parody. Yeah, if I could fish for some specific helpful comments from all you lawyers regarding my own work, I'd love it. But if that wish is unfair (fishing for free advice), any general rules of thumb, indication of what laws to look at (what search terms to use) or what discussions of laws to read would be highly appreciated.
I've read a general "rule of thumb" that a copyrighted work may be made use of in a parody if the intent of the parody is to poke fun at the copyrighted work itself.
I've also read that, in general, a copyrighted work cannot be made use of if the intent of the parody is to poke fun at something else altogether. Per my layman's understanding of articles I read, the use of "Pretty Woman" in a rap song was allowed by the Supreme Court because it parodied the "innocence" of the era that produced the earlier song, even though the song was also parodying modern fashions. The use of "The Cat in the Hat" was not allowed (don't know by what level of court) in a book that used it to parody the O.J. Simpson trial. There's a very recent case of publication of "The Wind Done Gone" being halted by one court, then allowed by the next court higher. The book is a parody of "Gone With the Wind" from the viewpoint of a slave half-sister of Scarlett which, I presume, is parodying attitudes toward slavery, the South, the Civil War (a rather serious subject), not just lightly parodying the book's characters, incidents, and so on (like the class Carol Burnett sketch did). I gather one court thought it was unfair to use the book because it was parodying such attitudes in general, while the higher court thought it was fairly parodying the attitudes of the book.
The novel *I* have in mind would be a parody of the original work, its inconsistencies, its discrepancies, its unanswered questions (as well as the typical comedy ploys of substituting silly goals for serious ones, stretching story elements to absurd conclusions, exaggerating the characters' traits into absurdity, complicating the plot into absurdity, etc.). I would probably do some of the silly stuff like substituting funny names for the original characters' names and so on. To some extent, I would step out of the story with the characters aware they are fulfilling plot conventions (like the T.V. show "Moonlighting" announcing they're getting to the chase). But, since I plan this parody to be a novel (albeit a short one), it will need a suspenseful plot of its own because parody sketch humor can go on for only so many pages.
So, what "percentage" of a parody novel playing off a copyrighted work needs to be jokey, wink, wink, nudge, nudge humor to not be in danger of being considered copyright infringement? Would I be safe reading other parody novels to get a "feel" for what is acceptable(like "Bored with the Rings," "Star Trek--the Next Degeneration") or is even parody with humorous (non-serious intent) still a gray area? Is what is "safe" still tied to the "sense of humor" of the copyright holder?
Any comments at all will be appreciated.
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