U.K. Copyright Laws & Parody

Updated March 23, 2017

British residents who create art for public consumption may encounter comedians and writers parodying their work. British copyright holders are protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988. Musicians, writers and artists can apply for copyrights through the UK Copyright Service and learn more about copyright protections through the Intellectual Property Office. Satirists and copyright holders alike should understand how UK copyright laws view parodies before pursuing legal action. The general consensus on UK copyright laws is that the copyright holder is favoured due to the restrictions placed on fair use.

Restricted Acts

A parody of a cartoon, movie or song infringes on copyrights if it copies the protected work wholesale or adapts a work without fundamentally altering its underlying theme. UK copyright law also forbids the performance or rebroadcast of protected works in public without the permission of the copyright holder. These provisions make it difficult for satirists and critics in the UK to use copyrighted materials unless they choose to use an extremely minor portion of the work in noncommercial settings.

Author's Rights

The copyright holder is entitled to two fundamental rights under UK's copyright laws. Copyright holders have the right to be identified as the creator of an original work, forcing parodies to have captions or tag lines including the names of authors. Artists who are parodying protected works in the UK cannot proceed without a determination by the copyright holder that the work is not a derogatory treatment of his art. For example, a musician can pull permission to use a song in a comedy sketch if the sketch's message would fundamentally hurt the artist's image or marketability in the UK.

Criticism and News Reporting

UK copyright law has opened an avenue for parodies for faux news programs and published critics. Copyrighted material can be used in news reports and criticisms as long as they do not rebroadcast the entire work in question. A comedian or journalist who wants to use a snippet of a film can do so as long as it is part of a publication or medium covered under this provision. Radio stations, websites and film production companies in the UK can argue in court that their interpretations of copyrighted material fall under protections for criticism and news reporting.

Ease of Proving Infringement

The problem with any interpretation of UK copyright law by parody artists is that the threshold for proving infringement is fairly low. U.K. copyright cases are tried in civil courts that place a lower burden of proof on the accuser than criminal courts. Copyright holders in the UK are often victorious in cases involving illegal downloads, online mash-ups and published satire using their works due to this standard. The accused party in a copyright infringement case has to argue that the artistic integrity and financial well-being of the accuser was not harmed due to a parody.

Effective Parody Methods

The easiest way to use a song, film or book in a parody is to ask permission from the copyright holder. Since UK copyright law allows artists to screen the appropriateness of parodies using their work, an artist may be willing to allow a parody with a few small tweaks. If a copyrighted work cannot be parodied for free, the holder may be willing to sign off on a license to reproduce work in limited circumstances. These licenses lay out the specifics of the reproduced work, including the number of times it can be exposed to the public before the license is revoked. A sure-fire way for satirists to get around UK copyright laws is to parody public figures who are open to criticism as long as it is not libellous.

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About the Author

Nicholas Katers has been a freelance writer since 2006. He teaches American history at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. His past works include articles for "CCN Magazine," "The History Teacher" and "The Internationalist" magazine. Katers holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in American history from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, respectively.