May 29, 2018

Parody and satire - an exception to copyright?

Parody and satire have long had a place in public commentary. Often considered imitation with a twist, the imitation part is still, strictly speaking, a breach of New Zealand's current copyright law.

Under the Copyright Act 1994, an exception to infringement of copyright may apply where the dealing with the work is for criticism, review or news reporting.

This exception may be set to expand, if Simeon Brown's Copyright (Parody and Satire) Amendment Bill is passed into law. The Bill proposes an amendment, allowing for use of a copyright-protected work for parody or satire, bringing New Zealand's copyright law more in line with Australia, the UK and Europe. The use wouldn't require sufficient acknowledgement of the original work, presumably as the original source needs to be reasonably clear from the work for the audience to get the joke.

What amounts to parody and satire isn't defined in the Bill. However, not any old satire or parody will be protected. The Bill links parody and satire to criticism and review, meaning the purpose of the parody or satire must be to criticise or review an existing copyright-protected work.

In the meantime, expressionists should still beware - it may be some time before the Bill is passed into law, if at all. The Bill has yet to have its first reading in Parliament, at which point it will then be debated and voted on by Members of Parliament. If successful, which often Members' bills are not, it will be sent to a select committee for a 6-month review process, allowing for public submissions. A second and third reading would still be required before the Bill is passed into law.

While many will see this amendment as a long overdue protection of freedom of expression, it's unclear whether Members of Parliament, often the subject matter of social criticism, will have the same view.

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