The United States has given us the Scary Movie films, Meet the Spartans and Date Movie. Why has the United Kingdom not produced anything similar? Maybe it is because they were not the greatest of films, but more likely it is because, up until 1 October 2014, the United Kingdom did not have a parody exception to copyright infringement. The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014 have come into force and state that “Fair dealing with a work for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche does not infringe copyright in the work”. The change followed the Hargreaves Review, an independent 2011 report commissioned by the UK government, which looked at whether the United Kingdom’s IP laws were compatible with the internet age. It found that the vast array of YouTube videos and social network posts parodying various works justified a parody exception. Arguments that the United Kingdom’s restriction on parody was restricting freedom of expression, economic growth and innovation appear to have won.
What does “caricature, parody or pastiche” mean? The European Court of Justice in Deckmyn v Vandersteen explained parody as containing humour or mockery and evoking an existing work, while being noticeably different. The Intellectual Property Office’s Exceptions to Copyright: Guidance for Creators and Copyright Owners (Government Guidance) sees ‘pastiche’ as a compilation (eg musical) of various different sources or that imitates another’s style. A caricature simplifies or exaggerates the subject to be insulting, complimentary and potentially entertaining or political.
So can you post those videos of you dressed as Lady Gaga, reinventing the lyrics? Probably not. As for other forms of fair dealing, the exception only applies to a limited, moderate amount of the original work not affecting its market (ie causing the copyright holder to lose revenue) and whether the amount copied was reasonable, necessary and appropriate. Government Guidance adds that using an entire musical track would not be fair. Libel and Slander laws, and the right to object to derogatory treatment, remain in force. On the other hand, comedians, in particular, are likely to be able to parody a few lines from a film or song, thanks to the new law.