back to article Parody is illegal, say barmy bureaucrats

The IPO chose Office Party Friday last week to unveil 15 more proposals on intellectual property reform. This is traditionally the most alcoholic workday of the year - and ministers might need another stiff drink as they digest the surprises that ideologically fanatical bureaucrats have been preparing for them. Among the …


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  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Parody isn't protectedin the UK

    It never has been.

    Parody is different from satire, I can say that the prime minister is an upper class toff who might be slightly out of touch with being unemployed in Barnsley - that's satire (crap satire but it should get me on channel 4)

    Parody is a Weird Al Yankovic song or a lego reproduction of star wars. This is more protected in the US, but even then re-using an entire song with new lyrics or remaking a fan version of entire movie isn't protected.

    Otherwise there would be no point in being a song writer - since everybody else's version of a Beatles song would be "a parody" and I wouldn't have to pay Lennon+McCartney anything when I got to number one.

    What I can do in the US is print a picture of Rumsfeld as the Emperor from Star wars - that's both parody and satire and is protected.

    1. Owen Carter

      I say old chap; any chance you are American? I don't think arguing 'protected speech' works well in the UK legal context; on account of there being no constitution etc.

      The UK has a hodgepodge of ancient laws protecting a few, and the recent enlightenment of the EU and Human Rights legislation which has extended this to the plebs, for a short while at least. These provide an exception for criticism; traditionally quite liberally interpreted, that would provide a safe haven for, say, a photoshopped Donny R as Voldemort collection.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The protection of the few is always going to be true

        My understanding is that English law allows whatever is not explicitly forbidden and johnny foreigner from the other side of the channel is only allowed to do what is explicitly allowed.

        However,(regardless of what happens in europe) thanks mostly to the past few UK governments and the avalanche of EU directives, so much has been made illegal or a grey area that many of the ancient freedoms have been lost, rather leaving us with the worst of both worlds.

        Anon, as this probably qualifies as parody, hate-speech, sexist-racism, unauthorised use of a computer and sedition.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oh yes there is, in spades

        England and, later, the whole United Kingdom have some very ancient constitutional arrangements, in writing.

        Best known are

        The Magna Carta (the source of much of the USA constitution), itself building on one agreed with King Edgar

        Habeas Corpus.

        The Bill of Rights, 1689

        The Acti of Settlement, c. 1700

        The Act of Union, 1707

        and sundry other laws, as well as EU law.

        Actually, there is quite a lot, with various accomodations to changing times and circumstances as well as Common Law where it affects rights and responsibilities.

        1. Chad H.

          There is a constitution in the UK

          But it's unwritten in the sense there is no single document that one can point at and say "that's it" (there are many as another reader has indicated).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Unwritten Constitution

            I always get annoyed when Americans (and others) misunderstand what is meant by an unwritten constitution. It is more accurately called an uncodified constitution, and simply means that the aspects of the constitution are not all written down in one place. There is also the fact that the UK constitution does not have any special place in law. Any part of constitution can be amended in exactly the same way as the remainder of the law - with majority votes in both houses and the signature of the monarch.

            Of course, the US constitution is one of the most difficult to amend constitutions around. This has the benefit of avoiding abuses like Tony Blair's attempts to extend pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 42 days (pre-charge detention was 48 hours in the UK not that long ago). This also has the disadvantage of making it almost impossible to get rid of archaic and anachronistic parts of the constitution like the right to bear arms, or the electoral college system of indirect election of the president.

    2. moiety

      Quilty as charged.

    3. Chad H.

      Sheer nonsense!

      If there's no point in being a songwriter of there's no copyright protection, then in forced to infur that there must have been no songs written before copyright laws. Since we know this isn't true inn forced to call shenanigans on that.

      In fact many well loved traditional songs have been built upon the tunes of others... Heck Americans sing "My Country tis of the" to the same tune an englishman asks god to save his monarch, so it all seemed to work quite well.

      Many of our great myths and legends are from writers who took an old story or hero and created a new work.

      Copyright is simply unnatural and a hinderance to the true creative arts, it's there just to make money. The true point in creating art should be the art, not the private jet.

  2. John Styles

    I believe...

    ... that the Barron Knights may be allowed out of jail under licence any year now.

    1. sabba

      Please god, no!

      See title

  3. Owen Carter

    "There is no copyright exemption for parody and satire, and yet satire booms"

    Doesn't 'Fair Dealing' ( provide a mechanism that exempts published works for criticism, review and reporting of current events. Which would cover a lot of parody and satire, even if they are not specifically covered in the law.?

  4. Chad H.

    Parody popularity unheard of?

    Weird al Yanchovich?

    1. Aaron Em


      And, yeah, he's pretty much unheard-of lately.

      1. David Kelly 2

        He's having fun

        Whats the point of being rich and successful if one can't take time off to enjoy life? To be able to afford to do the things you want to do without worrying about where the next meal was coming from?

        Weird Al wrote a children's book:

      2. Mad Hacker

        So you haven't heard of this then?

        Perform This Way:

        1. Steve Renouf

          Dunno. Not allowed to watch it in our country, apparently...


      3. Fred Goldstein

        Weird Al is still going strong. He does as a policy get permission to use the songs he parodies, but he also says that he does this voluntarily, not because he has to.

        US copyright law has an explicit 4-part list of factors to be considered for what is "fair use", and parody is viewed by the courts as falling into one of those categories (commentary, criticism). See the SCOTUS case Acuff v. Campbell for an example.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward



  5. Chris 3

    How well it works now?

    Well - ish. If you ever listen to something like the Now Show, you'll hear Mitch Ben performing song parodies that sound almost but not entirely unlike popular songs. You'll remember Pamela Stephen's not-quite version of Wuthering Heights. ISTR there were lots of songs that the Wurzels *couldn't* do (OK - bad example if I'm trying to garner support for my argument).

    It kinda-sorta-works, but if the IPO wants to make parody exempt, I don't see why that is such an outrageous idea.

  6. Ammaross Danan


    "...and the strange notion that parody and satire are illegal in the UK."

    Perhaps you should restrict your speaking on "works of satire" to music and media. If not, you should read a good piece of satire named "A Modest Proposal," which is satire of a different sort from what you're writing about.

    1. PhilBarker

      insert title

      can you imagine the reaction if someone (say jeremy clarkson) wrote "A Modest Proposal" today...

  7. b0llchit

    You're not allowed to create content

    Next bastion to fall is the creation of creation itself. You will have to get a copyright license to create something copyright-able. I guess that the bureaucratic proposals are illegally copyrighted?

    Outlaw enough and there will only be outlaws left.

    1. Luther Blissett

      Not quite

      The only creative people will then be the bureaucrats. It is The Ultimate Bureaucrat narcissism fantasy. Weird.

      (Needless to say, for a bureaucrat there is no overlap or necessary semantic connection between the concepts "creative" and "entertainment").

  8. Mage Silver badge

    Andrew? You believe this?

    "Traditionally the civil service is not supposed to set policy, but carry it out. The advice they give ministers is expected to be dispassionate and weighted."

    Or are you stating this is what should be the case. The weasel word is "supposed".

    I watched a REALLY good documentary on this. Not one scene in the Houses of Parliament though.

    I think the DVD tile was "Yes Minister".

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Andrew? You believe this?

      For more on Andrew's probing of the IPO, see:

      (Mage, you'll be reassured by the opening paragraphs.)


  9. Thomas 4


    I would say "Help, help, I'm being repressed!" but then I'd end up being repressed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Bloody peasant!

  10. Mage Silver badge

    "A Modest Proposal"

    Unfortunately some people in England thought Irish people did eat babies.

    Dean Swift had the right idea though.

    1. sabba

      Some people think...

      ..TOWIE or Made in Chelsea represent entertainment.

      We used to put the weak of mind in asylums; now we pay them benefits and sit them in front of Sky.

      1. peter_dtm

        no we don't

        we sit them on green benches in a big building in Westminster.

    2. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Hmmmm... babies

      They're damn tasty too.

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  12. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    So if one is a parodist...'s a case of Quilty 'til proven innocent, then?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Barry Trotter

    Does this mean the Barry Trotter books would be (are?) illegal! How pathetic (if true).

    I have them sitting proudly on my book shelf, next to the following notable paradies:

    Bored of the rings

    The Va Dinci Cod

    The Matrix derided

    The chronicles of Blarnia

    Star Warped

    Doctor Whom

    The Soddit, and

    The Sellamillion

    The parody ONLY works if you have read (or know) the original. If anything they promote sales of the original so people can get the best out of the parody.

    1. ScientologyIsACult

      don't forget

      The Matewix, a matrix parody set mainly in Wales, and "Bawwow-in-fuwness"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Porno has a problem then...

      Shaving Ryans Privates? et all.

      On a lighter note the Monty Python gang must be getting Parole about now?

    3. SimonK

      You have all of those?!?

      You say that "The parody ONLY works if you have read (or know) the original." Having received a copy of one of the Barry Trotter books as a birthday present a few years back, and having flicked through most of the others you mention, I can confirm that the parody doesn't work at all, certainly not in the case of any of these dull, cheap, obvious, unfunny, utterly pointless works.

      If those books are illegal then I would say "good", and call for the full force of the law to be unleashed immediately, to stamp out this drivel forthwith.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So you don't like them....I get it

        But the statements "having flicked through most..." and 'I can confirm that...the parody doesn't work...any of these" don't really sit well together do they.

        Flicking through is not the same as reading. And how you can confirm that parody doesn't work in ANY of them (even ones you haven't flicked through) is close to miraculous. But I get that YOU did not enjoy them (or the pages you skipped to anyway).

        I got some enjoyment out of the parodies - and I can think of books that are a LOT worse for being dull, obvious, unfunny, etc.

        PS. Yes, I have ALL of them - but I do read a lot and have several thousand books, so it's not surprising really.

  14. Armando 123


    that bureaucrats are parodies of human beings, ...

    Off with their heads! Assuming that would inconvenience them in anyway.

  15. Drew V.

    I assume the article is using the term "Maoist" as a reference to draconian rules imposed by the state, but the way it is used in this text, it can also be interpreted as implying that Maoists are enormous sticklers for intellectual private property rights...which they aren't, of course.

  16. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Barry Trotter

    Yes in theory they are - but no publisher want's to be attacked on Radio4, in the sunday comics and the Times Lit Sup as trying to crush free speech - and since these books sell about 3 copies each, nobody gives a *****

    If however you try and write your own sequel to the Harry Potter series featuring all the characters you will be dumped on from a great height - whether you call it parody or not. Even people creating encyclopedias of the HP or Tolkien universe have found this.

    ps. Weid Al songs are NOT allowed as parody - they are not parodies of the original work in that they do not parody it. They reuse the tune and lyrics to create a new (generally much better) artistic work which does parody some aspect of real life. That's why he has to obtain permission and pay royalties on the tune just like any covers band.

    The only song which arguably COULD be protected by parody is the "Smells like Nirvana" - which does rip the piss out of Nirvana - although Nirvana loved it so much they played on it !

  17. Anonymous Coward

    will != shall

    "We *will* try calling Antony Jay, and find out."

    There, fixed it for you.

    (Unless, that is, you just couldn't help yourself.)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Actual parody, as in taking the piss out of something - eg, Shamela by Feilding, is really protected by the fact that copyright requires that the copy be "substantially" the same as the original and no parody is likely to be. Even extended pun-style parodies like Bored of the Rings do not copy any actual text.

    Weird-Al is a trickier one as his parodies are generally very like the originals at least in so far as the music goes but, AFAIK, he gets around it by not getting around it - ie, he pays.

    It's actually quite hard to think of a way of parodying a film or book that would in fact breech copyright as it is constructed in the UK, without any need for a specific exception. I suppose a "What's Up, Tiger Lily" style redub would be on thin ice technically but it's hardly a big genre.

    None the less, in these increasingly hostile times for consumers and creators alike (the current movements in copyright are all about protecting publishers, not creators) it might be useful to have parody specifically protected.

    On the other hand, given that the rich can ignore the rules anyway (hello, Google), it probably doesn't matter a tinker's cuss what the government does or thinks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Weird Al ain't tricky

      The music and lyrics of a song are two separate things, copyrighted seperately.

      Weird Al is not parodying the music, he is just performing it, so he pays the standard fee. Nothing tricky about that.

      And it's worth noting that you don't need permission to perform somebody else's musical composition, so Weird Al can record "parodies" of any song he likes.

  19. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    What a sad, boring little world it's turning into

    While I was aware that parody was never legal as such, simply accepted as a valid comedy artform, these utter faceless twats devoid of all human passion just seem to want a button down world where everything is regimented and ordered. Nothing and no one steps out of line.

    What a very, very sad state of affairs we are leaving for our children.

  20. A Bee

    More clarification needed

    Parody ain't black and white. The grey areas may be in need of clarification (which I don't think the consultation delivers).

    If I write lyrics to somebody else's tune, then if I want to do anything public or commercial with that work, I need the permission of the copyright holder of the tune. (Why should it be otherwise?)

    On the other hand, if Mitch Ben or the Heebie Jeebies (Angus Deayton, Michael Fenton Stevens, and Philip Pope) write a parody in the style of someone else, they should have the right to create original works for the purpose of taking the piss.

    The parody has to come close to the original to do its job, but somewhere there's a crossover point, where melody or lyrics (in the example of a song) move from parody to appropriation. At that boundary we have more jobs for m'learned friends.

    [Holmes icon because some wazzacks are still trying to claim copyright for Conan Doyle material.]

  21. micheal

    Wierd Al Yankovic

    Had a new album out about 2 years back, he, like the Baron Knights, Grumbleweeds and such do great setting words to the tunes.

    I would also suppose that any recording not by the songwriter is in reality, a parody of the original

  22. El Presidente
    Thumb Down

    All this indifference and name calling by the freetards

    Will rapidly turn to fury and anger when some freetard's kid's photograph is lifted from some social networking site and widely used in a global advertising campaign (or worse - see link below)

    Once the freetard realises that their talented but stupid child has missed out on the chance of a 50% deposit on a house by assigning their copyright to a third party because they ticked the wrong box when they uploaded their work ...

    Or that those rights which were once enshrined in law are long gone because some library thinks it too difficult to track down copyright owners, or because Google says that's what it wants so that's what call me Dave gives them ..

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  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look on Amazon

    Try searching Amazon (US or UK) for books with the strong "parodies" - you'll see a LOT of hits, in my case starting with The Oxford Book of Parodies.

    How come the publishers of all those books haven't been sued? Or is this just one more example of "it's always illegal but we don't prosecute unless we've got our knife into the bloke for some other reason"?

  25. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    What, Me Worry?

    Would I get in trouble for bringing a copy of Mad Magazine into the UK? Or William Zaranka's "The Brand X Anthology of Poetry"?

  26. Cyberelic

    Bored of the rings

    Bored of the rings - Yay - first time I've heard that mentioned since the 70's. Kinda thin compared to the original, but good for a laugh.

    Tee hee


  27. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Repeat after me:

    there is nothing logical about human beings

    there is nothing logical about our humanity

    How that informs or widens scope of debate is not clear to me but I do reckon that when the fine-ness becomes too complex for mere mortals (mainly the great unwashed?) to understand then something is greatly wrong.

    The law should be easy to understand, seek clarity of purpose and generality of appeal.

    Otherwise it merely indicates that too many people earn too much money making silly conditional clauses and sub-clauses of infinite granularity that it keep their chosen professions overpaid and in far too much income for far too long a time.

    Hmm! So there pudden face :-)

  28. ShelLuser


    I didn't expect the Spanish inquisition...

  29. Richard Pennington 1

    @AC 16:28: "Parody only works if you have read (or know) the original." Not quite. Lewis Carroll included in his "Alice" books several parodies of Victorian "improving" poems and songs, all of which have far outlived the originals.

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge


      I just upvoted this. Yet it seems to me that most of who read "You are old, Father William" or "I passed by the garden" really don't read them as parody. I certainly didn't at 10, or whenever I read them first. And I think that if we read them for the parody, the interest would be as dead as it is in the poems parodied. Does Isaac Watts still get a look in outside the occasional hymnal? How many Carroll buffs have read as many lines of "Hiawatha" as they have of "Hiawatha's Photographing"?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      When anybody who reads the 'improving' poems has no knowledge of the originals then the Lewis Carroll versions are not read as parodies. When I first read them I thought they were just rhymes - it was only when I read the annotated Alice that I understood the parody, and got the 'joke'. Without knowledge of the original the 'parody' humour is lost.

  30. Mips


    ...I was to start a new political party "The Parody Party" would it be illegal? And because it is not legal to ban a political party unless it is proven to be harmful would that ban be illegal?

    Ooh I sense a catch 22 moment coming on. Oh sorry that was a parody.

  31. SDoradus
    Black Helicopters

    And the mechanism will be patents

    "You wlll have to get a copyright license to create something copyright-able".

    Nearly right. You will actually need a patent license, because given present trends it's only a matter of time before someone succeeds in patenting plotlines.

  32. spiny norman

    Last night I watched "The old blah blah blah shop of stuff" on I assume a BBC channel, since I don't remember any adverts. It had the inevitable Stephen Fry playing Kingdom in a frock coat and whiskers, along with other stand up comics who can't act and Celia Imrie, who can, but didn't get the chance. The writing was on the level of a public school end of term concert. So is there no law to prevent this? If it's a parody of Dickens, then it's open season, but if it's a parody of Dickens adaptations, presumably they're protected and we can send the whole production team to jail.

  33. BryanM

    At what point...

    ...does parody become plagurism?

  34. MacGyver

    Lame, You'd think they invented the concept of words and notes.

    I think to be able to copyright something written, %90 of all the nouns must be made up. The same with music, no sequence of 4 notes in a row can be the same as any other sequence of 4 notes in any other piece of music ever written. The same with the beat, "sorry but someone already has a song that's 130bpm, comeback when you have something different" You know, real copyrights.

    I'm off to polish my glubfluston before the Duke of Ruchenhoff gets here in his '43 Verkstodster.

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  37. Britt Johnston
    Big Brother

    long term solution

    Copyright is about preserving existing privileges in a world changing too fast.

    The safest way would be to write something, then wait 70 years before performing, lest it be similar to anything else. All other artists add nothing to GNP, and are to be treated as grafitti sprayers.

    This approach will also solve the problems of culture moving too fast, for this century. I love classical music and 19thC books.

  38. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Distraction Tactic No 3

    Moot something so outrageous that everyone is up in arms. While they are all distracted by agreeing that it should be stopped, sneak through something less harmful (but still harmful) into the legislation.

    The smart eyes should be on what other ideas the ICO have come up with, which on the face of it seem reasonable, but on inspection are damaging to the public good. Or possibly on the 'tax breaks for the married' nonsense Cameron has been spouting.

    Remember; we can all learn a lot from Sir Humphrey Appleby.

  39. Rampant Spaniel

    Really, seriously?? Somebody needs to clone Guy Fawkes already. Satire is illegal? As a 'content producer' if somebody chooses to parody my work I'd probably find it flattering / weird and or amusing. As mentioned, it it became popular I would get a slice. Given I have legal protection against such unsavoury types as the bnp / tories / virgin media using it against my wishes the current situation is fine.

    The sooner that Hargreaves review is binned the better, I have never seen such an unmitigated heap of toss since I drove by the European parliament. That review and this report are so heavily in favour of media companies who use rather than create content it would be hillarious if it wasn't screwing hardworking people over.

    The current situation works pretty well, it protects creators and the free market will protect purchasers. Maybe a few minor tweaks might help some industries but making copyright opt in? What the hell have they been smoking? Can we all have some?

  40. Local Group

    "The quality of parody is not strained."

    "Some droppeth as the gentle dog poop from Bullseye

    Upon the pavement beneath. It is twice blasted.

    It blasts him that watcheth it and blasts him who wroteth it."

  41. WonkoTheSane
    Big Brother

    @Loyal Commenter

    "Moot something so outrageous that everyone is up in arms. While they are all distracted by agreeing that it should be stopped, sneak through something less harmful (but still harmful) into the legislation."

    You mean like sneaking the EU's sign-up to ACTA into the bowels of an Agriculture & Fisheries meeting?

    See page 43 of this press release:-

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