Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is Copying or Parody the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

A recent episode of South Park included a parody of the movie Inception. Normally a parody would be considered a fair use in terms of copyright. However, in this instance the creators of South Park claimed to have never seen the film. How was this discovered?

The South Park episode contained several quotes from a video that appeared on the website The video (which first appeared in August contained the line, “Sometimes my thoughts of my dead wife manifest themselves as trains.” The line never appeared in the movie Inception. However, the line was used, along with others from the web show, in the South Park episode, entitled 'Insheeption.'

The South Park creators have apologized to the creators.

In the case of a parody defense to copyright infringement, the copying must be close so that the work can be recognized as a parody of the original work – however, it is a fine line – as a parody must only take what is necessary. This can be a very fact intensive process. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994)

It is often difficult to determine when copying occurs. (In the instances of text, publishers will often print books with typographical errors to determine if someone has merely made a copy of its work.) Sometimes, the slightest changes will conceal whether a copyrighted work was in fact copied. Ideas and facts can often be expressed in many ways. However, because the South Park episode slavishly copied the work, it was easy to tell where and what was copied.

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