Content Creator Essentials: Intellectual Property for Satire and Parodies

Tech leaders started out marketing the internet to the world—only a few decades later, the world's biggest market has become the internet. With more than half of the global population using the technology, online ventures stepped up as decidedly one of the world's leading industries. Online innovators saw this emerging path, and immediately found effective ways of monetizing their influence and content in social media. Lucrative as it is, productions should still follow guidelines set by the law. Many influencers found that content is potent when using comedy. But how could we do it legally? This article explores the provisions guiding the creation of comedic pieces, particularly satire and parody.

Expert Insight: Most comedic content posted online is usually done at the expense of another copyright holder's rights. However, since Fair Use enables creatives to use copyrighted works, the line dividing legal and prohibited is indeed a fuzzy one. Specifically, the line should exhibit the purpose of criticism, commenting, and transformative work. It is best to consult a dedicated Intellectual Property lawyer when using another person's original work as a reference.

The creative process encompasses a protracted sequence of making and remarking—not necessarily by the same person. International Intellectual Property authorities recognize this and allow Fair Use of copyrighted materials.

Drawing the Line: Parody and Satire

Both are purposefully funny. And they also hold the same potential to garner impressive shares and views. Still, parodies and satire are squarely separated into two boxes.

Parodies are materials explicitly using a copyrighted work to poke fun or express commentary on the same work. Legal proceedings historically sided with the parody makers based on the following criteria:

  • Transformative Factor: If, for example, the parodist evokes an entirely different meaning to the piece by employing similar elements from the original work, then the parody becomes permissible by the law. However, while lighthearted in its core, parodies sometimes appear as sharp commentaries to the work in question. For instance, the “Scary Movie” franchise unapologetically lifts tropes from earlier movies to provide stinging critiques to the genre.
  • Nature of Original Work: Since the law upholds the public's benefits above everything else, general information and dissemination of facts override most proprietorship claims. Meaning, factual works like biographies and reports give more elbow room for reuse than fictional expressions.
  • The Lifted Portion: Generally speaking, Fair Use does not allow taking significant portions of an original work. Much less if it's the core of the work that's being utilized for another purpose. However, “less is more” does not apply to parodies. Since the parody's main objective is to conjure a memory of the work, it is often essential to take significant parts and even the core of the caricatured work.
  • Implications on Income: To protect the creator's interests, copyright laws prohibit unfair use. Depriving the owner of potential income, or diminishing the existing market for the copyrighted material, constitute unfair use. And this applies even if the copy is not necessarily in the same market as the original piece. However, the world has seen many parodies that undermined the popularity of the initial artwork. In such cases, the concerns are not related to the denial of a market, “but whether it fulfills the demand for the original.”

On the other hand, the satire is a commentary, often scathing in nature, that copies an original works' elements to drive a point across. However, the difference between satire and parodies lies in the object of ridicule. Whereas parodies use the same material to poke fun at the work, satire takes from other unrelated creations to vilify societal issues and vices.

Expert Insight: Since satire deploys copied aspects of works unrelated to the subject matter, it does not qualify for Fair Use. There is no readily discernible need to use copyright-protected work for the purpose of the satire. Hence, treading this path requires careful consideration, and is best done alongside an expert attorney.

To Be Fair

Finding the perfect balance among artistic expression, freedom of speech, and Intellectual Property protection is a highly nuanced task. While general provisions for Fair Use permit some cases to air publicly, there are also instances wherein the parodists are found liable in their pursuit of comedy. 

In the same light, satire is not always considered infringing. From the canons in our literature to modern-day equivalents in cartoons, these artforms populate our collective consciousness.

Be Legally Funny

Content creation admittedly presents huge opportunities for online personalities and regular folks alike. For some, it could be the make-or-break moment in their careers. And most find their path to getting viral through hitching a ride from established artists. While at the same time adding their brand of comedy.

However, haphazardly jumping in the bandwagon without proper consideration of the original owner's copyrights could cause expensive legal troubles. 

Originally published by Abou Naja, August 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.