Judges will decide whether a parody is sufficiently funny to avoid copyright infringement

Changes to UK legislation have come into force, allowing for the parodying of copyright works.

Under a new exception to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, people will be allowed to re-use copyright material “for the purposes of parody, caricature or pastiche” without having to seek permission from the content owner first.

The new Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014 are an attempt to combine both the language used in the Copyright Directive (Directive 2001/29/EC) and that found in UK legislation.

The exception will apply to any creative work, including music, film, pictures and books.

Under previous UK law, there has been a danger of comedians and the public being sued for breach of copyright if clips of films, TV shows or songs are used without consent.

However, should a parodist be taken to court, it will be up to a judge to decide whether the disputed parody is sufficiently funny to take advantage of the exemption.

Some specialist lawyers are predicting that we are set to see a rise in copyright disputes as a result of these new rules, especially if judges are forced to decide on the humour of a piece of work.

A significant bone of contention between owners of original and parody works involves “mashups” which are created by re-editing existing material to present satirical montage. David Cameron, David Attenborough and Barack Obama have all been targets who have found YouTube fame as a result of the mashup phenomenon.

Mark Solon, solicitor and director of Bond Solon, the expert witness training company, said: “A judge is bound to ask: ‘What is a mashup?’ It’s a mix of content from TV, music or film that may be funny or serious and is often posted on sites such as YouTube. If the original material is copyrighted then permission would be needed from the owner.

“The new law allows the use of such material if the purpose is parody, caricature or pastiche. ‘What is parody?’ and this is where the judge comes in. What may come under these headings for one judge may not for another. It’s an interesting question as to whether an expert witness would be needed if the issue is outside common knowledge. Probably not, but humour is so subjective.”

Animal rights charity PETA has launched a new website featuring the words “Force-Fed & Murdered”, designed to evoke the style used by Fortnum & Mason for its company branding and logo as well as the overall look and feel of the store’s website. The launch makes PETA the first campaigning organisation to take advantage of the change in copyright law and is aimed at highlighting Fortnum & Mason’s support of foie gras.

In the United States, PETA US has already created a number of parody websites, such asKentuckyFriedCruelty.com and BloodyBurberry.com.

This article was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 3 October 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.