Fair Use Question of the Month: Parody, Satire, and Fair Use
This month's Fair Use Question features a discussion about the difference between parody and satire. You can find this question and more in professors Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi's new book, Reclaiming Fair Use!
Dear Center for Social Media,
I'm producing a comedy revue sketch satirizing election practices. I'd like to create parodic versions of famous people's names, like Nancy Feroshee and Newt Gangrene. I'd also like to create a slide show to be projected during the sketch, including photographs of actual election rally signs, and to include some relevant political cartoons that reinforce my message in the slide show. Can I claim fair use for these uses?
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Parody and satire are so closely related that it can be hard to tell the difference, but both are different from just being funny. When you parody, you need to be referring to a text, which can include a performance, because you're imitating it with a critical purpose related to the specific text. Satire is typically focused on behavior not necessarily contained in a specific text. Your project sounds like satire. In this case, you have a range of purposes. You are mocking politicians by developing ridiculous versions of their names. This does not involve copyright, and since they are public figures you are free to make fun of them.
Regarding photographs, we're presuming you took those pictures and therefore own the copyright for them; and we're presuming you took pictures of a public event. So you have no issues; you are here to use that material. If you are using someone else's photograph--for instance, a picture off a newspaper's website--then you have copyright questions. You will need to ask what different purpose you are using it for, and whether your use conflicts with a reasonable after-market for a topical photograph. Your argument here is that you are incorporating it into a musical revue that is critical of election practices. Next you'll ask if your use is limited to what you need to make a point. So you might have an excellent rationale for one photograph or for a montage of photographs describing a range of, or pervasive, behavior. Or you might have only one point to make and need only one photo to make that point.
Finally, you want to include cartoons. These too are copyrighted. Once again, will your use be different from the original purpose of the cartoons? If you just want to use them to make or reinforce your political point, it may be hard to justify fair use, because you are repeating the original purpose of the cartoon. But if you are using the cartoons, for example, to demonstrate that many different perspectives emerged about a particular political act, you would have a strong fair use argument.
Thanks for your question and good luck with your project!
The Center for Social Media
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