Landmark Copyright Ruling Rings in 20th Anniversary; Celebrate With Your Favorite Parody Videos


What does the above Saturday Night Live parody of Wes Anderson films have in common with the 2 Live Crew song "Pretty Woman?" Both were made legally possible by a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down 20 years ago today.

The case, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, centered on 2 Live Crew's parody of the Ray Orbison ballad "Oh, Pretty Woman." Because the hip hop group was making money off the parody, a lower court had decided that the fair use doctrine did not apply.

But the high court disagreed, deciding unanimously that commercial parody was fair use under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. It noted that the more transformative a new work was, "the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use." From DisCo's Matt Schruers:

Campbell cemented the viability of commercial parody in U.S. copyright jurisprudence, along with the principle of "transformativeness" as one motivating principle of Congress's decision to enact fair use. The idea of "transformativeness" … has helped ensure that innovative new commercial technologies, which often involve copying but still increase the value and accessibility of creative works, can come to market.

The anniversary of Campbell is important to mark "due to the growing significance of fair use for commercial purposes and businesses," Schruers added. Though the importance of commercial fair use is often overlooked, about 17 percent of U.S. GDP was produced by industries benefiting from fair use and other copyright exceptions. 

Have a favorite parody video or few? Share 'em in the comments. You know, for liberty's sake.