July 27th, 2004

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"on the meaning of 'parody'"

Lawrence Lessig just put up a great blog entry about the JibJab Flash of Bush/Kerry. The essence of Lessig's observations is that while JibJab claims that their use of Woody Guthrie’s This Land song is considered "fair use" under "parody" standards, it, in fact, does not meat the criteria for "parody" because the JibJab piece is poking fun at Bush/Kerry, not at Woody Guthrie. Guthrie's lawers (OK, not really Guthrie's lawers, but the lawers who represent the publisher who owns the rights to his works) are all over this now and are in the process of investigating what legal recourse they have against JibJab.

*sigh* The current state of copyright law is a mess. I certainly don't agree with everything Lessig advocates, but he does bring up some excellent points in most of his blog entries. The best point in this entry is the observation that were he still alive, Woody Guthrie would likely want to have nothing to do with any of this. Lessig points out that "Guthrie was not much for property rights himself." According to the law, it's very likely the case that JibJab's "parody" is illegal because it's technically "not a 'parody' in the copyright view of the word." The question is: should it be illegal or should it be fair use?

I don't know if JibJab's piece constitutes "fair use" or not. Well, no. It probably doesn't constitute "fair use" under existing law. But should it? Maybe, maybe not. What I do know is that it's one of the funniest pieces of political commentary I've seen in a long time. I agree with Lessig when he says it's "brilliant."

Be sure to check out Lessig's thoughts on the issue.

Lawrence Lessig's Blog is syndicated on LiveJournal as lawrencelessig.
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More info on JibJab

I don't have much time to pontificate about this, but I just noticed some more updates on the JibJab issue I wrote about earlier today. Thanks again goes to Lawrence Lessig's blog (via lawrencelessig) for the links.

Lessig's latest blog entry points out a criticism of Lessig's claims that, if accurate, would indicate that the JibJab piece is indeed parody, and thus protected under "fair use" clauses in copyright law. On the other hand, Chris Cohen agrees with Lessig and claims that the piece is satire, which is not protected under "fair use" clauses. There is a lot more interesting information about the legal difference between parody and satire at those links.

Also, JibJab has contacted the EFF for legal help on this issue. Good for them! They point out that Woody Guthrie used the following as his standard copyright notice:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

I really hope JibJab comes through this a winner. Getting the help of the EFF will go a long way to helping them out.