Recently, the BBC reported on how a new law brought into effect on 1st October now allows for a parody exception to copyright.

The ruling, from the European Court of Justice, means that if the advertisement uses existing work but is different in the way that it expresses humour or mockery, it may be deemed an exception to copyright.

Vague?  Yes, however the change in law has already been welcomed by comedy writers such as Graham Linehan, who is behind several popular television shows such as Father Ted and The IT Crows.  Graham stated in an interview with the BBC: “"People like to create new work and up until now those people have been in such a legal limbo. They can do something that's incredibly clever and very funny but it gets taken down in moments."

Conversely, the change in law does not give brands and comedians free reign to use whatever they like from another brand or public figure.  As guidance from the government suggests; fair dealing allows you only to make use of a limited, moderate amount of someone else’s work.

I’ve got a great parody idea – can I use it?

This is the question all advertisers and comedians should be asking.  The answer is potentially now going to be yes!  However, it’s always best to check with a specialist corporate lawyer, who can advise you whether your parody would be deemed acceptable or whether you would require a license or permission from the copyright owner.

What is someone is parodying my brand?

You are entitled to be protective of your brand and the messages associated with it.  If someone has created a parody that specifically relates to or potentially harms your brand, we can look closely at whether this breaches laws on fair dealing, defamation or infringement; as well as copyright.

Parody advertising – is it worth it?

Potentially yes.  Marketing Week recently reported on animal rights charity PETA, who launched a website evoking the style of Fortnum & Mason.  The site featured the words ‘Force-Fed & Murdered’ in place of the Fortnum & Mason logo and was all presented in a similar style to Fortnum & Mason’s  own website.  This undoubtedly has an extremely powerful message and has been said to be the first of many risqué advertising moves to come, following the change in parody law.

If you’re unsure, just ask

Ask an expert – it’s almost guaranteed to be a lot cheaper to check with your local corporate lawyer than it would be to get hit with a hefty fine or a law-suit because your parody is breaking the law.  If you are going to go to the effort of creating a brilliant parody, it makes good sense to check with a corporate law specialist to make sure that you will actually be able to use it first.