UK parody copyright law change opens the door to new type of (legal) content marketing

What was once a grey area for UK courts has now become crystal clear after legal changes were made to parody laws on October 1. Does this change open the door for parodies to be used in all sorts of creative marketing campaigns in the UK?

Under previous laws, there was a serious risk of parody artists and satirists being sued for breach of copyright if clips of films, television programmes or songs were used without consent.

The new European Copyright Directive, however, means that as long as the parody is deemed to be fair, and does not compete with the original material, the parody is legal in the eyes of the law.

This does not mean the game is up for the owners of original materials however, as they can still sue if the work conveys a discriminatory message. Furthermore, adding a hint of subjectivity into the fore, it is then up to a judge to decide upon whether the parody is deemed actually funny.

EU rules now state that:

“The only, and essential, characteristics of parody are, on the one hand, to evoke an existing work while being noticeably different from it and, on the other, to constitute an expression of humour or mockery.”

“If a parody conveys a discriminatory message (for example, by replacing the original characters with people wearing veils and people of colour), the holders of the rights to the work parodied have, in principle, a legitimate interest in ensuring that their work is not associated with such a message.”

Although some might well argue that there are more pressing copyright issues facing the UK film, television and music industry, with the ever growing popularity of YouTube, parody laws are more important than you might think, and cases more common than you would expect.

For instance, it was announced in July 2013 that Pippa Middleton was to sue the creators of a book and Twitter account which served to lampoon the socialite, despite her initial approval.

After the official lawyers of the Royal family got involved, and demanded an end to the account two days after the book release, @Pippatips was silenced forever.

But in the past, such parodies have even served a greater good, as was seen in the summer of 2012, when the Leader of The Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, returned from his holiday and apologised for pledges his party made during the 2010 election campaign.

What was seen as a strange political decision from the beginning, was made worse when The Poke released a remixed version of the speech.

But Clegg, unlike Middleton (though possibly under some duress) took the lampooning well, giving his consent to it as long as any money made from the video was given to Sheffield Children’s Hospital, of which he and his wife are patrons.

Thanks to The Poke (and Clegg), the video was released as a single and at one point reached 143 in the iTunes chart, raising thousands of pounds for the chosen cause.

As you can imagine, the new legislation has also been well received by parody artists themselves, including the well-known Cassette Boy, who rose to fame after parodying The Apprentice.

Speaking to the BBC, he said of the past (pre the new laws):

“It feels like our chosen form of expression is being censored.”

“It’s [been] like being a painter in a country where paint is illegal. In the past, our work has just disappeared from the internet overnight.”

Even those in television have announced their approval, including The IT Crowd writer Graham Linehan, who agreed that in the past he had found the laws restricting and said that:

“Artists need to be protected, but recently there’s been an automated quality to some of the legal challenges.”

“You might do something and you know full well the author of the original work will love the thing you’re doing and see it as a tribute or friendly nod, but the lawyers – they don’t see any of that, they just see something they have to act on.”

It is expected that thanks to the change, a large resurgence in parody and satire will hit the internet. Well, perhaps not Facebook as much (as it is soon to begin pointing out satirical news posts in feeds), but certainly on YouTube and on television.

We might even see more of Weird Al.

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