Parody and Fair Use: Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music (1994) | Leo Versel | April 18, 2016

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Parody and Fair Use: Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music (1994)

by Leo Versel Show/Hide

This case set an important legal precedent for what courts consider fair use in relation to musical parody.

In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. filed a lawsuit against rap group 2 Live Crew and their record company, Skyywalker Records, claiming that 2 Live Crew's song “Pretty Woman” infringed on Acuff-Rose's copyright of Roy Orbison's “Oh, Pretty Woman.” 

Below are two YouTube videos of Orbison performing his original song live and audio of 2 Live Crew's parody:

Roy Orbison Performing “Oh, Pretty Woman” Live

Audio of 2 Live Crew's Parody, “Pretty Woman”

A United States District Court granted summary judgment for 2 Live Crew, holding that its song was a parody that made fair use of the original song. However, a Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed this decision, holding that the commercial nature of 2 Live Crew’s parody made the song's use presumptively unfair. This case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which had to determine whether or not 2 Live Crew’s commercial parody was a fair use within the meaning of the Copyright Act of 1976.

According to an article on Oyez.org about the case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of 2 Live Crew. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice David H. Souter, the Court held that a parody's commercial character is only one element to be considered in a fair use enquiry. The Supreme Court also held that not enough consideration was given to the nature of 2 Live Crew’s parody in weighing the extent to which it copied Orbison’s original song.


That same Oyez.org article also says the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals “erred in applying the presumption that the commercial nature of the parody rendered the song presumptively unfair.” This was due to a lack of evidence regarding the character and purpose of the use and the market harm to Orbison’s original song.

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  1. 1 Show/Hide More Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music - Annotated Supreme Court Case Law
    Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music – Annotated Supreme Court Case Law
  2. 2 Show/Hide More Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music: Audio Recording of Oral Arguments
    This is a link to an Oyez.org web page with an audio recording and transcript of the oral arguments in Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music. This case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 9, 1993.
  3. 3 Show/Hide More 2 Live Crew Discussing This Case on CSPAN
    Here is a YouTube video of 2 Live Crew, the petitioners in Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music, discussing this case on CSPAN.
  4. 4 Show/Hide More Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music: Summaries of Law Journal Articles
    Original Creator: Leo Versel

    This web page includes hyperlinks and short summaries of three law journal articles related to the Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music legal case.

    1) “Oh Pretty Parody: Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.” 

    This is a scholarly article from the Fall 1994 volume of Harvard University’s Journal of Law and Technology (JOLT). In the article, Lisa M. Babiskin chronicles the historical background of fair use and parody and analyzes the case law prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. Babiskin concludes by analyzing the Supreme Court’s decision and what it holds for the future. 

    2) “Trademark Parody: Lessons From the Copyright Decision in Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.” 

    This 1996 scholarly article from Duke University’s Law School discusses the importance of Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music in relation to analysis of parodies in trademark legal cases. The author of this article, Gary Myers, concludes by suggesting that the “likelihood of confusion test” that is instrumental in evaluating trademark cases should also be used in evaluating trademark parodies. 

    3) “Three Years After Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music, Inc: What Is Fair Game For Parodists?” 

    This scholarly article written by Kathryn D. Piele first appeared in 1997 in the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review. In her article, Piele discusses the fair use clause of the U.S. Copyright Act and how parodies are protected by it. She also discusses how courts applied the fair use doctrine to parody cases prior to Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music.

    Piele then delves into the Supreme Court ruling for Campbell and how it changed the way the fair use doctrine was applied to parody cases. She then concludes by describing the problems regarding the treatment of parodies by copyright law before finally recommending how courts should change current copyright law.

  5. 5 Show/Hide More Parody & Fair Use: Legal Hypotthetical
    Original Creator: Leo Versel

    Yo Yo Money Singh releases a song called “Money, Money, Money,” which samples The O’Jays’ original song, “For The Love Of Money”. Tuff Gong, the O’Jays’ recording label which owns the copyright to the original song, sues Yo Yo Money Singh for copyright infringement. Yo Yo Money Singh argues that his song was a parody of the O’Jays’ original and because of this, it qualifies for fair use under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.

    The case eventually reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, which is tasked with deciding whether or not Yo Yo Money Singh’s song is a parody and whether or not it has done market harm to the O’Jays original release.

    Based on Code 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, as well as the oral arguments of the petitioners and respondents, a group of nine Supreme Court Justices need to reach a ruling. Three petitioners and three respondents will argue the case on either side. The rest of the class will take notes, comment on what they saw, and analyze the justices’ final verdict.

    Appendix A: Lyrics to Yo Yo Money Singh's Parody

    I got, Money, Money, Money, Money, 

    You don't, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha

    I need, Money, Money, Money, Money

    For weed, Money, Money, Money, Money

    And speed, Money, Money, Money, Money

    My creed, Is Money, Money, Money, Money

    Appendix B: Lyrics to The O'Jays' Original Song

    Money, money, money, money, money [6x]

    Some people got to have it

    Some people really need it

    Listen to me y'all, do things

    Do things, do bad things with it

    You wanna do things, do things

    Do things, good things with it

    Talk about cash money, money

    Talk about cash money

    Dollar bills, y'all

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