A new copyright law came into effect in the United Kingdom on October 1st, modifying copyright protection of parodies. The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations allow the use of copyrighted material for parody purposes if it is “fair” and does not compete with the protected work.

This move follows the general trend in the European Union, with countries like Germany and France implementing similar regulations. The United Kingdom’s parody regulations amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which originally allowed a copyright holder broad discretion to bring suit against any and all parody uses of their work. As a result, prior to the current regulations, British creators of mash-ups and spoofs on websites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were highly vulnerable to costly and lengthy lawsuits—regardless of whether such use distorted the image of the original copyright holder.

This new regulation is timely considering the early September ruling by the European Court of Justice that a political parody going beyond mere “expression of humour or mockery” encroaches on the image of the original rights holder. As a result of this ruling, copyright holders still have a right to bring action against the parody creator if the parody “conveys a discriminatory message.” The European Union opined through the copyright directive that “the holders of the rights to the work parodied have, in principle, a legitimate interest in ensuring that their work is not associated with such a message.” The interest of the original copyright holder in this instance, therefore, is given more weight than freedom of expression concerns.

This is a rare circumstance when a court has created an exception before the regulation came into effect. While the new regulation does offer greater protection for parodies in the United Kingdom, the court’s exception for “discriminatory message[s]” may result in creative arguments from rights holders that any and all parodies have a negative effect on the image of the original work.

Dustin Kovacic

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