“Grease” may be the word, but the creators of “Vape”, have won their lawsuit for declaratory judgment on grounds that their musical is a fair use parody.
When Concord, the music publisher that controls the original Jim Jacobs/Warren Casey Musical about 1950’s teen life learned about “Vape”, which was created by Comedy group Sketchworks, it sent a nastygram (cease and desist letter) asserting claims that the group needed permission to perform its sendup.
Sketchworks disagreed. Their musical, they believed, is covered by the copyright defense of “Fair Use” which arises out of first amendment free speech principles, and protects certain uses of copyright protected materials for criticism, commentary. They claimed that their show is targeted at pointing to the absurdities in the original, which it does by mocking the plot line, the propensity of characters to spontaneously burst into song, and by pointed dialogue aimed at the sexism and misogynistic approach to relations between the characters.
The lawsuit was allowed to proceed even after Concord and Jacobs dropped their demands because there remained a threat of litigation absent a formal release or confirmation of intent not to sue.
So, after a trial, federal judge Laura Swain (Southern District of New York) has ruled in Sketchworks’ favor, finding “Vape” to be a parody, and therefore fair use of the “Grease” elements it incorporates.
No word whether the defendants plan to appeal.