Twenty-five years after the release of Roy Orbisonís song, "Oh Pretty Woman", 2 Live Crew wrote a vulgar parody satirizing the famous rock ballad. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., the owner of the copyright for the song, brought an action against Luther Campbell, the leader of the band 2 Live Crew, for copyright infringement. At issue in this case was the scope of the fair use provision of the Federal Copyright Act, which specifically permits unauthorized use of a work to criticize and comment upon the work. Ultimately, the Supreme Court examined whether 2 Live Crew's commercial parody was indeed a fair use of the original song within the meaning of the Federal Copyright Act.
The music publishing company claimed that Campbell had not made fair use of Orbison's song because Campbell's version had taken too much from Orbisonís original and used the work for commercial purposes. Campbell claimed that his parody was fair use because 2 Live Crew's song was a form of artistic expression which sought to comment upon and criticize the naivete of the original.
The Supreme Court agreed with Campbellís argument and held that parody, like other comment or criticism, may claim fair use under the Federal Copyright Act. The Court recognized that "parody has an obvious claim to transformative value [and] the goal of copyright, to promote science and the arts, is generally furthered by the creation of transformative works."
The Supreme Court confirmed for the first time that a parody is a protected form of speech, within the scope of the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act. It further rejected assumptions applied by lower courts that the sale of parodies for profit was presumptively unfair, and the parodist could take no more than is necessary to conjure up the underlying work. Instead, the court found that the commercial or non-commercial purpose was merely one of many factors, and that the amount and substantiality of the permissible use of the original work depends upon the extent to which the overriding purpose and character of the new work is to parody the original rather than serve as a market substitute for the original.
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