A radical change to U.K. copyright law will be introduced later this week, giving British video makers the legal right to parody copyrighted works for the first time.
Most video makers are familiar with fair use, which is a doctrine of U.S. copyright law that permits the limited use of copyrighted material under certain circumstances; such as teaching, criticism, or parody. However, it’s easy to forget that not all countries have this provision in their laws and when they do it may not be as comprehensive. Britain’s version of fair use, known as fair dealing, is missing many of the protections of its American counterpart. In addition to explicitly excluding the right to parody copyrighted material without permission, in many cases it completely excluded the right to use clips of films, TV shows, and songs in any way.
Now, a new European Copyright Directive called The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations is being introduced to help level the playing field. From October 1, 2014, British creators will be able to use all forms of copyrighted material for the purposes of parody, criticism, or commentary, so long as the final piece of content does not compete with the original version in any way.
The new rules are not as liberal as America’s fair use doctrine, as the owners of the copyrighted works may still be able to sue if they believe the parody could be seen as discriminatory.
The new regulations state: “The only, and essential, characteristics of parody are, on the one hand, to evoke an existing work while being noticeably different from it and, on the other, to constitute an expression of humor or mockery.
“If a parody conveys a discriminatory message (for example, by replacing the original characters with people wearing veils and people of color), 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.”
If there is a disagreement, it will be up to a judge to decide whether the parody is funny enough to meet the standard of the law. A judge deciding what’s funny and what isn’t sounds risky enough. But to make matters worse, in many cases if there is a disagreement the case may have to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights, which would be a significant expense for the creator.
That being said, these new regulations are certainly a step in the right direction. British parodists have been muted for a long time by Britan’s antiquated copyright laws, and this new legislation levels the playing field with their American counterparts like Bart Baker and Barely Political.
British YouTuber Ali Jardz recently had his amusing parody of a David Attenborough documentary, ‘David Attenborough Observes Fangirls,’ removed from YouTube after the BBC used the same antiquated copyright law to get the video removed. It has since been re-uploaded by another user:
Cassetteboy, a high-profile British YouTuber best known for his mash-ups of BBC’s reality entrepreneurial contest ‘The Apprentice,’ is another creator who has fallen foul of copyright law in the past. “It’s like being a painter in a country where paint is illegal. In the past, our work has just disappeared from the internet overnight,” he told BBC News before adding that the current rules make him feel “censored.”
This new legislation is a welcome first step towards fixing that for Cassetteboy and every other British parody artist.