Citation[edit | edit source]

Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994) (full-text).

Factual Background[edit | edit source]

In 1964 Roy Orbison wrote the song "Oh, Pretty Woman." Acuff-Rose, Inc. was the owner of the song at the time of the lawsuit and received income from the licensing of derivative works of the song.

Defendant rap group, 2 Live Crew, created a rap version of the song. They had requested permission from Acuff-Rose to do a rap version, but had been turned down. After the defendant issued their version of the song, Acuff-Rose sued Luther Campbell, a member of the group for copyright infringement.[1]

The district court granted summary judgment to 2 Live Crew, finding that the parody was a permissible fair use. The Sixth Circuit court of appeal reversed, relying primarily on the apparent Sony presumption against a fair use finding where the secondary work is of a commercial nature.[2]

U.S. Supreme Court Proceedings[edit | edit source]

The U.S. Supreme Court granted review, which was limited to the following issue: Whether the petitioners' commercial parody was a "fair use" within the meaning of 17 U.S.C. §107.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court examined the legislative background and specific text of the fair use statute, emphasizing that the "task is not to be simplified with bright-line rules, for the statute, like the doctrine it recognizes, calls for case-by-case analysis."[3] The opinion gives specific guidance for the application of the four fair use factors to particular situations.

Nor may the statutory factors be treated in isolation, one from another. All are to be explored, and the results weighted together, in light of the purposes of copyright.[4]

Following this model, the Court turned its attention to the four factors, focusing a majority of its inquiry on the first of the four fair use factors. In effect, the Court determined that the central issue of the investigation was to determine whether the new work superseded the original work, or whether the new work added new material so as to change the original work with new expression, meaning or message.[5] Further developing this analysis, the Court held that the “transformative” nature of parody argued in favor of allowing it to stand alongside the classic [fair use]] categories of criticism and commentary.[6] The court determined that the more transformative the work is, the less significance should be placed on the other factors that may weigh against a finding of fair use, such as the “commercial nature” of the work.[7]

The Court examined the judicial precedents concerning the concept of parody and observed that parody may be a transformative use and could qualify as a fair use.[8] In its analysis, the Court examined the elements that constitute parody and concluded that: "parody, like any other use, has to work its way through the relevant factors, and be judged case by case, in light of the ends of copyright law."[9] As determined by the Court, when fair use is raised in defense of parody is whether a parodic character may reasonably be perceived. The Court determined that in the instant case, the parodic character of the song in question was recognizable.

Considering whether the use of the work was of a commercial nature, the Court observed that the appellate court erred in giving nearly dispositive weight to the commercial nature of the parody. The Court made clear that Congress intended this element to be only one of several elements which should be considered in the evaluation of a fair use case. In dismissing the appellate court's finding the Court stated:

If, indeed, commerciality carried presumptive force against a finding of fairness, the presumption would swallow nearly all of the illustrative uses listed in the preamble paragraph of §107, including news reporting, comment, criticism, teaching, scholarship, and research. . . .[10]

The Court said that Sony did not establish any hard evidentiary or bright line presumption against commercial use being a fair use.[11] The Court explained that the “‘presumption’ or inference” of market harm should be limited to cases in which the infringing work completely duplicates the original for commercial purposes.[12]

In reviewing the second fair use factor — the nature of the copyrighted work — the Court concluded that the "core" or essence of a copyrighted work had been used. However, the Court reasoned that this factor was not necessarily dispositive, since parodies by their very nature copy publicly known works.[13]

In analyzing the third fair use factor &mash; the amount and substantiality of the work used — the Court also noted that copying the heart of the original work was not necessarily an unfair use, since “it is the heart at which parody takes aim.”[14]

The Court remanded for determination of whether the musical portion taken was substantial in relation to the Orbison work as a whole and to determine whether 2 Live Crew’s work harmed Acuff-Rose’s potential market for licensing rap versions of the underlying work.[15]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 510 U.S. at 1168.
  2. Id. at 1168-69.
  3. Id. at 1170.
  4. Id. at 1170-71.
  5. Id. at 1171.
  6. Id.
  7. Id. at 1174.
  8. Id. at 1172-73.
  9. Id. at 1172.
  10. Id. at 1174.
  11. Id. at 1174.
  12. Id.
  13. Id. at 1175.
  14. Id. at 1176.
  15. Id. at 1176-77.
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