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comedy parody act

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 12:17 pm    Post subject: comedy parody act Reply with quote

Hi I do a comedy parody act for lady gaga and other peopl... I change the lyrics to make fun out of myself, and certain situations but use the original backing as basis for my songs. I was just wondering what the legal implications are for me doing this as I'm being offered a lot of work for this act?

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 2:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Parody is not currently considered fair dealing* under UK copyright law. It is more widely accepted in the US under their fair use doctrine, and it is an amendment to the law here which has been proposed by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his recent review carried out for the government. I mention all that because I think it is the way the law is tending to go and this could affect the way the courts will begin to look at parody, if you were unlucky enough to be taken to court. However I am imagine that if Lady Gaga's record company did object to your act, you would be much more likely to receive a letter asking you to stop (a cease and desist letter), and only if you ignored this would there be further repercussions.
In strict terms, the major problem lies in your use of the music. If you get a licence to perform the music (I assume you are either using the original Lady Gaga tracks or a karaoke version to provide the music, rather than any live musicians). You can get a licence for this from PPL.
As far as the lyrics are concerned, so long as yours are sufficiently different from the original I think you are less at risk here. One of the dilemmas over parody is that to determine if something copies a substantial part of another work, the courts often look to see if the essence or main theme of the original is clearly present in the alleged copy. Of course for parody to work, the listener or viewer has to associate the performance with the thing being copied, so clearly the parody needs to replicate the 'look and feel' of the original. The most widely cited caselaw based on parody is Williamson Music Ltd v The Pearson Partnership [1987] FSR 97, in which the song "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" from the musical South Pacific was parodied in an advert for a coach service and this second song was held to be a copy of a substantial part of the original. This was in part because the music was virtually the same in both.
Musical parody has long been part of the entertainment scene and is generally accepted as a creative activity, especially in comedy. However once things get into the realms of the law, unfortunately different standards apply.
The other apsect to note is that under UK law the author of a work has the moral right for it not to be treated in a derogatory way. This might apply, for instance, if you used the music under licence but combined it with obscene lyrics which damaged the reputation and standing of the original composer. Cases of this sort are rarely brought to court, though.

*It has been suggested, but not I think tested, that parody could be seen as 'review or criticism' of the original, which if accepted by a court, would amount to a defence under the fair dealing rules. I think this would be a real long shot. Even less likely to succeed would be a public interest defence.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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