If you're a lover of music then you've probably heard of the name Weird Al Yankovic. Known for his extraordinarily long, curly hair and talent for making the accordion look and sound cool, Yankovic is perhaps best known for one more thing: his parodies of other songs.
If you're familiar with his work then you probably can't listen to "American Pie" without thinking about the movie "Star Wars." But if you're a frequent reader of our blog, you probably also can't stop thinking about entertainment law either and how it applies to Yankovic's songs. So why aren't his songs considered instances of copyright infringement? Let's take a look.
Yankovic's songs aren't considered instances of copyright infringement because of the fair use doctrine. It states that the "unauthorized use of a copyrighted material is excusable" if it falls under one or more of the six categories listed in the Copyright Act. In Yankovic's case, his songs are considered parodies, which fall under the fair use doctrine and are therefore not subject to typical copyright laws.
As you can imagine, fair use does create a sort of gray area in the law that can catch some artists off guard. This was demonstrated by Yankovic several years ago when a misunderstanding between the parodist and Coolio was finally settled years after it began without the use of litigation.
It's because of this gray area that the U.S. Copyright Office suggests that an artist wishing to use a copyrighted work ask the copyright owner for permission first, even if they believe the new work falls under fair use. This way, the second artist can make sure that they are adhering to the law, and not infringing on anyone's rights in the process.
Sources: FindLaw, "Fair Use Law," Accessed Oct. 29, 2014
The U.S. Copyright Office, "Fair Use," Accessed Oct. 29, 2014