Parody Hotter and the Library of Congress
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I’ll sue you if you steal my words.”
I try to keep my Kindle store bestselling blog, I Love My Kindle, eclectic. I make an effort not to have two similar posts in a row, figuring that way, all of my subscribers get their ninety-nine cents a month’s worth.
However, I do like some types of posts better than others. Oh, I love doing the deep-dive analysis, but I’ll admit…I really like writing parodies.
Parodies? In a Kindle blog?
Yep…I take famous works, and re-do them with some kind of Kindle or e-publishing element.
For example, I did Doctor Watson’s Blog: A Kindle Abandoned. It was a four-part Sherlock Holmes story, with a Kindle as a major clue.
I thought it came off rather well, and have gotten good feedback about it.
Recently, I did a Leave It to Beaver parody called Beaver and the Kindle.
I love trying to capture someone else’s style, and the voices of the characters. I want it to ring true to the reader…but not completely true.
That last point is key to the copyright issue of parodies.
You can’t just publish another book in The Hunger Games series without permission..you’d be violating copyright.
However, you know there have already been parodies, and there are going to be more. How do Mad Magazine and Saturday Night Live avoid getting sued?
Well, the answer is that, within certain constraints, making a parody of something falls under Section 107 of Title 17, the Fair Use part of US Copyright law.
Essentially, a parody is a commentary on the original work. It’s protected because it is written to say something about the original: it’s a form of criticism.
That’s important: if your work doesn’t make fun of something, you’ll be infringing.
What about fan fiction, you say?
Yes, that’s generally an infringement. Oh, many authors and publishers allow it…although they don’t have to do that.
If you write (and publish) the story of Haymitch’s Hunger Games lovingly and reverently, you could face legal consequences.
If you make a joke out of it, they can’t touch you.
That’s the trick.
In my popular parody of the original Star Trek, The Kindle Encounter, I made fun of Captain Kirk’s amorous pursuits. I named a Security officer who beams down with the party and gets killed “Camisa Roja”…Spanish for “red shirt”. As fans of the series know and joke about, a “red shirt” on the landing party is pretty much guaranteed to be toast.
It’s because I’m exaggerating those for effect that I’m okay using the characters. I don’t have to write them badly for it to be funny or legal…I can do a good version of the series, as long as I keep that “commentary” angle well in play.
That said, I do need to warn you about a few things if you want to try parody.
- I’m only talking about law in the USA. For example, Canada doesn’t recognize the parody protection in the same way…which may in part explain why so many Canadians come to the USA to do comedy.
- There may be trademarks involved in addition to copyrights…they could get you for using the name of a character that had been trademarked
- Parody doesn’t automatically make you safe…copyright law is notoriously fuzzy. The court decides in each case if you crossed the line. If your work is so close that people could get confused as to whether it’s the real one or not and that hurts the market for the original work, you could be in trouble. That’s one reason to label it as a parody clearly, and to switch up the names
- Big companies can sue you even if they are going to lose. It takes money just to mount the defense. That’s something that has to worry indies more than the traditionally published. The legal department at Random House may tender a defense if a parody they’ve published is attacked. For an indie, it’s possible that you’ve bought an insurance policy that will tender a defense. If not, a tradpub could crush you with the suit alone
All of the above said, I still love parodies. I think I do them in a way that helps the original work…I show the love, I think, even if I am pointing out some flaws. That’s what people who really love you do, right? Helping the work is no legal defense, but I do think it makes it less likely that they’ll sue you.
Note: the image in this post is from a 1907 parody of Alice in Wonderland, first published in the USA. That makes it in the public domain in that country.
Recent posts in the I Love My Kindle blog which may be of particular interest to WG2E readers:
- The Bundle Conundrum: why bundle several books into one?
- Tor goes DRM free: a major publisher, part of Macmillan, drops Digital Rights Management from all of its e-books
- Poll Party #1: click “View Results” on the polls to see how my readers feel about free books, why they return books for a refund, and more
- Barnes & Noble teams up with Microsoft, splits off NOOK & College
- Snapshot: May 1 2012
Bufo Calvin is the author of the popular I Love My Kindle blog and six titles in the Kindle store, including the #1 bestseller Love Your Kindle Fire: The ILMK Guide to Amazon’s Entertablet. Bufo is proud to be a part of the WG2E family.