New UK Copyright Exception Allows Mashups — But Only If Judges Think They Are Funny

from the you-must-be-joking dept

Five years ago, Techdirt reported that a request to the UK government to provide a copyright exception for mashups was rejected. Since then, we’ve been reporting on the UK’s very slow progress in updating its copyright laws by bringing in various changes and exceptions. An article in the Daily Telegraph points out that there is a big problem with the new exception for parody, caricature or pastiche (found via @copyrightgirl):

Under a new exception to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998, which comes into force on Wednesday, people will be allowed to re-use copyright material “for the purposes of parody, caricature or pastiche” without having to ask permission of the original author first.

There is an important caveat. If a parodist is taken to court, it will be up to a judge to decide whether the disputed parody is sufficiently funny.

A document from the UK government explains (pdf):

In broad terms, parody imitates a work for humorous or satirical effect, commenting on the original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target.

Leaving aside the fact that judges tend to be somewhat advanced in years, and are therefore likely to have a very different idea from young creative artists of what “funny” means, there is also the point that this narrow definition excludes a huge class of mashups that aren’t even intended to be funny, just creative. As Mike pointed out recently in his article on Kutiman, it’s all too easy for this brilliant use of elements taken from elsewhere to be seen as “infringing.” The fact that the UK’s exceptions do not permit such kinds of originality shows how much its new copyright is still stuck in the past.

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Comments on “New UK Copyright Exception Allows Mashups — But Only If Judges Think They Are Funny”

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23 Comments
Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A British judging if something is funny?
I don’t think it is actually required to succeed in being funny, it only has to be clearly intended to be funny – and hence not a competitor for the original.

Also note that this actually seems to go beyond US style fair use in that it allows satire (the appropriation of a work to poke fun at “some other target”) as opposed to just parody – which strictly has to be a parody of the work itself.

Retsibsi (profile) says:

I rather think that’s the Daily Telegraph’s “take” on trying to make something into a news story. Contrary to the general public’s view (or what the papers would have us believe is their view) is that judges certainly have a sense of humour (and yes, I do happen to know a number) but it’s hardly politic for them to exercise humour in court.
I really do doubt any judge would expect, or wish, to set themselves up as humour critics. I rather think the only issue they would be prepared to decide would be one of whether or not humour was the intent of the mashup / parody / etc

Crazy Canuck says:

*First thing to pop into my mind*

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Inspector Fox of the Light Entertainment Police, Comedy Division, Special Flying Squad. I’m charging you two under Section 21 of the Strange Sketch Act. You are hereby charged that you did willfully take part in a strange sketch, that is, a skit, spoof or humorous vignette of an unconventional nature with intent to cause grievous mental confusion to the Great British Public.

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