Copyright: Parody


What’s parody? Courts have viewed parody as fair use of a copyrighted work. However, what constitutes parody has not always been clear. “The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material,” says the U.S. Copyright Office.

Parody v. Satire

Court cases have distinguished between parody and satire:

  • Parody—the “use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s work.” A parody targets and mimics the original work to make its point (ridiculing the original composition or author) while a satire uses the work to criticize something else. [Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 580 (1994)].


  • Satire—the use of an existing work to seek attention or profit, criticize society generally, or criticize something besides the original work. In a case before the Ninth Circuit, Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat was used to comment on the O. J. Simpson trial. The court ruled that because the O. J. commentary ridiculed Simpson and the murder case, rather than the original work or its author, it’s not a true parody eligible for the fair use defense. [Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA, 109 F.3d 1394, 1401 (9th Cir. 1997)].


Other factors help determine fair use (see the U.S. Copyright Office’s information on fair use).

The Bottom Line

What constitutes parody is a complicated issue. To be safe, get permission. See also Copyright: Changing Lyrics.


U.S. Copyright Office Factsheet on fair use of copyrighted works

NAfME Copyright Center

Creativity in the Classroom—a program fostering respect for intellectual property and an awareness in students of their creative work.

Posting Your Musical Performance on SchoolTube: A How-To Copyright Guide

Copyright: The Complete Guide for Music Educators by Jay Althouse (Van Nuys, CA: Alfred). Currently out of print, but used copies are available.

–Linda C. Brown, May 6, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (