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Writers who enjoy creating parody—novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, or poems—know how important it is to pay careful attention to copyright infringement. Parody is a literary style that uses elements from a well-known work to create a brand-new work—one that obviously calls to mind the original—and although this seems to be in violation of copyright law, parodies and spoofs are protected by law as long as they adhere to certain rules.
Suppose you’ve written a poem that brings to mind the work of Edgar Allan Poe in a mocking sort of way, and you’re worried about fair use. If your poem is an original creation—based broadly on the style of Poe’s work—your parody should be protected. You may legally write a parody of Little House on the Prairie, perhaps titled Little Mouse on the Ferry, but you may not publish (and sell) a spinoff of the original. In other words, you can’t legally write a continuation of the last book of the series featuring Laura Ingalls Wilder, et al.
What is a parody?
In literary terms, a parody is a form of satire that imitates the characteristic style of another author or work in an exaggerated fashion for comic effect. The aim is to criticize or mock the original work in a humorous way.
What is fair use?
Fair use is a US Copyright Act provision that allows certain types of use of a copyrighted work. Parody is considered fair use when it is an entirely new and original work that imitates another work in order to ridicule or criticize it. But the parody must use only enough of the original work to “call to mind” the parodied work in order to be considered fair use.
What’s the difference between a parody and a satire?
Satire is a literary technique of writing that ridicules its subject (people, institutions, society in general), and its intention is not so much entertainment as making a political or social statement. Satire uses recognizable elements from an original work to make fun of something else. It does not necessarily have to be humorous, and, in fact, satires are often tragic. If the satire is humorous, it tends to be subtle, with liberal doses of irony and deadpan humor.
In the courts, parody and satire are separate elements. The parody must fall under acceptable fair use provisions to avoid copyright infringement, and it must be an original, new work that can stand alone. Satire does not necessarily involve a substantial change to the original subjects (people, institutions, etc.).
What’s the difference between parody and fan fiction?
Fan fiction is different from parody as the author tries to stay true to the original work and copies necessary elements of the original. Most fan fiction writers do not try to sell their work and generally share it freely over the Internet. A Harry Potter fan may want to create new stories as a spinoff of the original novels, and as long as the writer doesn’t try to sell or profit from the work, it is protected by copyright law.
How do I protect my parody?
Pay careful attention to the characters and scenes you create in your parody to be sure they are original, and make sure your wording and descriptions are your own. Remember, a parody should “bring to mind” the original, not copy it.
NOTE: Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service. We help writers by managing their submissions to literary agents and editors. We offer our writers information about legal and copyright issues, but we do not offer legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have concerns about the legality of your parody.
QUESTION: Have you ever written a parody? What current event would you like to see lampooned?