‘How Parodies Work’ in the Internet Age

The ever-vigilant Electronic Frontier Foundation announces (11/18/08) its representation of “a New York City community organizer [who] is fighting back in court after her parody website challenging redevelopment efforts in New York City’s historic Union Square was shut down with bogus claims of copyright infringement and cybersquatting”:

As one part of her education campaign, [Savitri] Durkee created a website parodying the official website of Union Square Partnership…. In response, USP sent Durkee’s Internet service provider a notice pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act improperly asserting that her parody site infringed USP’s copyright, leading to the shutdown of the site. USP then filed a copyright lawsuit against Durkee and later filed a claim with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) seeking to take control of the parody site’s domain name.

EFF today filed a response to USP’s complaint on Durkee’s behalf, pointing out that Durkee’s parody is protected under the First Amendment and fair use doctrine. The response includes counterclaims asking the court… to find that USP’s complaint was intended to stifle legitimate political speech. Durkee is also seeking compensation for the abridgement of her speech.

EFF attorney Corynne McSherry points explains the basics: “Ms. Durkee’s site is a parody, so of course it mimicked USP’s site to some extent. That’s how parodies work”–and puts it plainly: “The parody site is plainly a fair use and protected by the First Amendment. This is a case about censoring speech, not about infringement.”

Read FAIR’s magazine Extra!: “Fair Use It or Lose It: Copyright Owners’ Threats Erode Free Expression” (5-6/06) by Marjorie Heins