Can I Register a Musical Parody?

You can - but you should know a few things first.

A parody is when someone imitates another piece of literature, music or artwork. Since they’re considered both a critique and the commercial exploitation of a creative work, parodies are a unique case when it comes to copyright law. 

Just ask the king of satirical songwriting, “Weird Al” Yankovic. For nearly four decades now, he’s asked every single artist he’s riffed on for their permission first. Most have given him their blessing, too, largely because a “Weird Al” nod is considered a badge of honor — a sign that you’ve truly made it as a star. “Weird Al” doesn’t do this because he is legally required to do so, though; he is, by all accounts, just a really nice guy.

Song parodies - if they are, in fact, actual parodies - fall under fair use. The Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. case the Supreme Court debated in 1994 is a prime example of this. It pitted the publishing company of country music legend Roy Acuff against lead 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell, claiming his group recorded a controversial version of Roy Orbison’s iconic “Oh, Pretty Woman” single without his permission. 

The chief justices found that the song was a parody of the Orbison hit, and that the fact that the song was released commercially did not render it a presumptively unfair use of copyrighted material. Rather, a parody's commercial character is just one of several elements that should be cited in a fair use inquiry. 

This case created a legal standard of parodies being protected derivative work. However, the line of what is exactly legal is not 100% clear. If you have the option of getting legal permission from the original songwriters or their publishers, you’ll be certain you’re going to be fine. If you can’t, well - parodies can be important cultural and political statements not only in song, but in other media - and the Supreme Court seems to agree that they’re protected.

What’s considered punishable by law also varies by country. You can find more information on copyright law here.

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Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.