When is a parody a parody?
Hi, I'm Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer your burning entertainment law questions, so you can take your career and business to the next level.
Bob wrote me an email to ask:
In general, what are the copyright and licensing rules for writing “parody” songs and, perhaps more importantly, what is the material difference between a “parody” and just writing additional lyrics for a given melody?
For example– let's say I write a musical production about a day in my life, to be performed on stage. If I take the song “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma! and write lyrics to the same melody that say “Oh, how I like to eat corn flakes,” have I actually created a parody, or have I just written additional lyrics to an existing song?”
The law on Parody is complex and confusing, but basically, what you describe wouldn’t likely qualify as a parody… Just as “new lyrics”.
A true parody, the Courts have held, has to make fun or comment about the THING that is being parodied. So, if you’re using a song, but changing the lyrics, you’d have to be poking fun at the original song.
Changing lyrics in the way you’ve described is really just making a derivative work… And that’s one of the exclusive rights reserved to the copyright owner. So doing it without permission is copyright infringement.
Now, under “Fair Use” it’s probably permissible to change a word- or -two, (as with gender-changes, for a female singer singing a song written for a male, etc. But beyond that, you’d need permission from the copyright owner.
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