Where do you draw the line between spoof and copyright violation? How? 6 Answers as of May 12, 2015

What exactly are the rules regarding what is and is not copyright violation? I want to write a spoof of some major modern literary works, but I am not sure how far you are allowed to go without violating copyrights, and I do not want to write the whole thing and not be able to sell it because it violates copyrights. How far can I go without having to worry about getting sued?

Ask a Local Attorney. 100% Anonymous. Free Answers.

Free Case Evaluation by a Local Lawyer: Click here
Eminent IP, P.C.
Eminent IP, P.C. | Paul C. Oestreich
You have raised a particularly fuzzy area of the law. Generally speaking, parody (or spoof as you term it) can be defended under fair use doctrine of the Copyright Act itself. Section 107 of the Copyright Act lists 4 "fair use factors" that must be analyzed to determine whether a particular use of a copyrighted work, such as a parody, is fair use. These factors are the: (1) purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is commercially motivated or instead is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) nature of the copyrighted work; (3) amount and substantiality of the portion used in the newly created work in relation to the copyrighted work; and (4) effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. All 4 of these factors will be considered by a court when evaluating a fair-use defense. No single factor by itself is sufficient to prove or disprove fair use. As you can see, there is no bright line that identifies whether your parody will survive a copyright infringement suit or not. Accordingly, you should seek intellectual property counsel with an understanding of copyright law to discuss your particular parody and have them perform the fair use analysis with the relevant case law to determine whether it is a parody or an infringing copyright violation.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 5/12/2015
Webb IP Law Group
Webb IP Law Group | Jason P Webb
I believe that a very important factor and a common place where people go wrong with that is that the spoof needs to be making fun of the original work in some way. If you are not making fun of the original work but instead making fun of something or someone else, then it is not really a spoof and you lose the "fair use" defense.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 5/12/2015
Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
That's a million dollar question! You have to go far enough that everyone can identify the original work and understand that you are parodying it but not so far that you are liable for plagiarism. So you'll need to do more than just change the names and location you'll need to write the work in your own words and base the story on a similar, but not exactly the same, outline.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 5/11/2015
Barton Barton & Plotkin
Barton Barton & Plotkin | Maurice Ross
There is no easy way to answer this question. However, the parody defense to copyright infringement is much more limited than most people believe. There is a big difference between parody (which is a defense to copyright infringement) and satire (which is not protected). A parody involves a commentary on the original workit uses language to provide a commentary or perspective on the substance of the original work, in order to criticize or make fun of its author. A satire uses the original work as the starting point for comedy, but its purpose is not to criticize or make fun of its author. Satires use original works as starting point, but often the satire is not for the purpose of commenting on the original work-rather, it is for some other purpose, or for purposes of making a different kind of political statement. A "spoof" of the type you are proposing is probably not going to qualify as parody. Rather, it is more likely to be considered satire. Further, even if you have a defense to claims of copyright infringement, you could run into problems under trademark law if you use characters in the original work. Characters often constitute trademarks because they are identified with the source of the work (for example, Mickey Mouse is associated with Disney). If you use famous characters to promote your "spoof" (or include them in the spoof), that use could violate trademark law even if does not violate copyright law. Beyond the foregoing, it is impossible to give you more specific advice on where the line is drawn. Professional authors who write parodies usually work very closely with experienced intellectual property counsel to make sure that the work qualifies as parody, and to otherwise advise concerning whether the "spoof" will likely give rise to liability under copyright or trademark law. Major publishers and magazines have teams of lawyers who work in-house, and review "spoofs" and "parodies" before they are published. If you do not have the benefit of working with a major publisher or magazine with in-house counsel to advise you, then you should hire your own lawyer-it is too risky to move forward with a project like this without the benefit of legal counsel.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 5/11/2015
Law Office of Kirk Buhler
Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
Generally if a person can tell what you are spoofing then you are probably in violation. As an example, Wierd Al Yakovic obtained approval from every artist that he spooked with his songs. The only known artist that refused was Prince. It would be far safer to request and obtain approval in advance. Some authors will welcome the spoof because it can increase their sales.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 5/11/2015
    Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
    Parody is the legal term for the spoof that you want to make and sell. It will likely lead to a law suit against you - but you might win. Years ago - Two Live Crew did a parody of the song Pretty Woman - and they won the court case filed against them - but it cost $$$ to do so. The parody case law is interesting - but it shows the cost of wanting to do what you want to do.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 5/11/2015
Click to View More Answers: