3 things to know if you’re making a parody video

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.

Video creators! In a previous post, we laid out some basic guidelines for avoiding copyright problems on YouTube. Today, let’s look a little closer at parody videos—they can be a great draw for your fans, but it’s important to understand some dos, don’ts, and legal issues before you get started.

What is parody?

Parody is a specific application of fair use guidelines. Parody allows creators like you to reuse an original copyrighted work without infringing on the content owner’s copyright—if you 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 for fair use to the work that you consider a parody.

Legal considerations

Several U.S. court cases have interpreted and found parodies to be fair use. One of the earliest 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 U.S. 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.

But other court cases have ruled against content creators 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.

What this means for you

How does this matter for video creators? 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 difficult analysis. So you should be careful and thoughtful before assuming that your work would be treated as a parody.