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When is parody protected by the fair use doctrine?

On Behalf of | Oct 11, 2022 | Intellectual Property Law |

Some artists make profitable careers making works that parody the works of other artists. Just think of the works of musician Weird Al Yankovic whose decades-long career is built on parodies of popular music. Still, determining whether a parody is lawful can be a tricky topic, as one recent film demonstrates.

Is The People’s Joker lawful parody?

The People’s Joker is a film that parodies a number of characters from DC Comics, such as the Joker and Batman. After the premier of the film, rescreenings that had initially been scheduled were cancelled due to potential issues regarding intellectual property rights.

Specifically, The People’s Joker raises copyright issues. It is both a parody and satire, and while generally it is legal to use copyrighted works in parody, some may argue that The People’s Joker falls more on the line of satire, rather than parody, which is not protected by the fair use doctrine.

Copyright and the fair use doctrine

The fair use doctrine allows for the unlicensed use of a copyright-protected work. Under the fair use doctrine, parodies do not violate federal copyright laws. Parody is allowed as long as it mimics the original copyrighted work.

Still, not all parodies will be protected by the fair use doctrine. Courts will look at the purpose and characters in the parody, the nature of the protected work, how much of the protected work was parodied and the effect the parody has on the value of the protected work as a whole.

Determining whether a work of art is a lawful parody or not can be tricky, especially when the work walks a tightrope between protected parody and unprotected satire. It is important that copyrighted works are protected from the use of others, for the sake of the original artist.