Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Weird Al" Yankovic vs. Those Who Do Not Understand

According to a recent NPR story, James Blunt's record label, Atlantic Records has told "Weird Al" Yankovic that he cannot release a parody of Blunt's hit song, "You're Beautiful" called "You're Pitiful."

Can a record label do this (since it owns the copyright to the music and lyrics)?

Read what Yankovic himself said in the story.

"The legality in this case is somewhat moot," Yankovic writes
when contacted via e-mail. "James Blunt could still let me put it on my album if
he really wanted to, but he obviously doesn't want to alienate his own record
company... and my label could release the parody without Atlantic's blessing,
but they don't really want to go to war with another label over this. So really,
it's more of a political matter than a legal matter."
Yankovic is absolutely correct. Although he does ask permission of artists, he need not. The infamous 2 Live Crew case states this principle. The case is called Campbell, aka Skyywalker, et al. v Acuff Rose Music, Inc. 510 U.S. 569 (1994). Many people don't remember 2 Live Crew's parody of "Oh, Pretty Woman," the Roy Orbison hit song. (That's, frankly, a good thing.)

Luthur Campbell, lead rapper of 2 Live Crew, argued that their version of the song was not copyright infringement under the Fair Use Doctrine, which is defined in U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107. A basic reading (for now) is that re-recording is allowable for criticism or comment. The United States Supreme Court agreed, stating that when a new piece of art is created in the parody, it can be seen as comment or criticism of the original work.

The problem with the Supreme Court's opinion (in my opinion) is that it does not help to define what comment or criticism is. How much of the new work has to hearken back to the original work? Using Yankovic as an example, many of his parodies are funny, but do not really comment on the original work (except to use the same music), such as his first professionally recorded song "My Bologna," a parody of "My Sharona" by the Knacks. Compare that to "(This Song's Just) Six Words Long," parodying "Got My Mind Set on You," which was recorded by James Ray in 1962 and George Harrison in 1987. Weird Al's version dissects the trite love song genre the original song belongs to.

It is settled law that any parody is Fair Use under the United States Copyright Statute (U.S. Code Title 17). Unfortunately, it appears as if Yankovic and his team are not willing to duke it out. Thankfully, they've gone the route of just putting the song on the Internet. Enjoy!

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home