Will parody videos get you into trouble?

written by JoshRimer.com on January 14th, 2012

One type of video that has proven to be quite popular on YouTube is parodies… which of course is something I’ve taken advantage of in my strategy to get more views (click here to see my Parodies playlist on YouTube). Copyright issues on YouTube however, have discouraged some people from doing them, or at least given them doubt as to what they can or can’t do on the site without risking possible suspension or even termination of their account.

Here are some points that were recently shared by an entertainment lawyer in a ReelSEO post aimed at setting the record straight about the legality of doing these kinds of videos… in the US at least, under the Fair Use law.

1. Parodies are essentially commentaries that poke fun at something to spark a discussion about it. They are ok to do because they make changes to the originals and “bend the truth”. You do need to have to make it clear though that you’re doing a parody and expressing an opinion. To be safe, you could always add a disclaimer that this is what your intention are to do.

2. You generally don’t have to worry about copyright infringement when you do a parody because sometimes you have to adopt a portion of the original work in order to make yours work. It can be argued that without using a shot of the original to give reference to what you’re doing, your parody wouldn’t make sense, and Fair Use typically allows for that.

Certain rules apply to different countries and Fair Use can even be bypassed by state laws within the US. The best defense you’ll have for yourself, of course, is 1. to ask permission from the owner of the original work, and 2. to credit the owner of the original work.  Because I don’t expect pop stars to promptly return my request when asking for permission, I typically go with just option #2 and put links to the original videos I’m making a parody of in the description field of mine, sometimes even links to where you can buy the original work on iTunes.

At the end of the day there isn’t always a definitive line on what will or won’t protect you from getting into any copyright issues when using someone else’s property in your videos, so you’ll just have to assess your own risk level and decide whether or not it’s worth it to you… or of course talk to a lawyer for advice on your particular situation and the laws where you live.

What do you think? Have you had any issues with using other people’s work in your videos?  Do you make completely original videos that only contain your own visuals and audio?  Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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Facebook Comments:

  1. Siti web Torino

    I love parodies, and I think that they represent also a reclame to the original movie. That means that in general you’re not damaging the author. Isn’t it?

  2. Jen

    Thanks for posting about this, I think most people are unaware of what the laws actually are, which opens them up to being bullied by the big names. The fact of the matter is that parodies are protected under Fair Use. As long as you make it clear that its a parody (this should usually be obvious, but I agree with you that its good practice to play it safe) then you aren’t doing anything wrong.

  3. Jess

    Great post, well worth the read. My understanding is that parody is protected under fair use, is that correct? If that’s the case, as long as you are perfectly clear that your video/song is a parody you should be fine. I think it’s important that all artists fully understand these rules so they don’t get taken advantage of.

  4. Blake

    I love parodies and I think its just another way of expressing your feelings and opinions.

  5. William

    Yes, fair use should protect you in most cases. In reality, it is very unlikely that anything with happen to you legally. At worst, Youtube will receive a complaint that you are infringing, and they will take down your video. Not the end of the world..

  6. Rob Townley

    The copyright stuff on youtube is really annoying, I recently recorded some really high level Street Fighter 4 Matches that I had with friends and was not allowed to upload them because we was listening to Metallica in the background.

  7. Andy

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for clearing that up. I, like you think paradoies and comedy videos on Youtube can be a very effective marketing tactic and I don’t think should people worry about infringement too much. If you’re from a small blog trying to make a few bucks, the worst that could happen is that your video will get taken down although even this is still unlikely!

    Thanks Again

  8. Jon

    Wow Jim Carrey looks awful in that picture, has he really aged that badly? I’m with the general consensus here – the benefits way outweigh the risks with parody videos. They may ask you to take it down but that’s the worst that could ever ever ever ever happen. :)

  9. Tom Smith

    Thanks for sharing. I love parodies and I hope I can do one in the future. These pointers will definitely guide me not to be suspended in my youtube account.

  10. Lawanna

    Touche. Great arguments. Keep up the good work.

  11. Mahalia

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on youtube.


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