Video parody?

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  • I created a video that is based on a skit from the kids' show The Electric Company. The skit is the "soft shoe silhouette": two silhouetted faces would say parts of compound words, along with a bouncy little soundtrack. My video takes that idea and applies Internet slang to it: one face says the Internet slang term and the other face says what it means. Example: "LMIRL...Let's Meet In Real Life". My soundtrack is not lifted from the actual skit, but hacked out on a keyboard: the music is similar.

    I would like to put the video on YouTube for the public library where I work. The video is non-commercial and educational in nature. I wondered if this video could be seen as a parody.

    I think the video would have appeal, and would in no way detract from the original skit, but I would like to make sure that go about doing this the right way.

    Any help would be appreciated.
  • I doubt that the video you describe is a parody under the relatively narrow definition used by the Supreme Court in the "Oh Pretty Woman" case. What exactly is being parodied here? Presumably not the Electric Company skit; you are using the same format to convey different information, not making fun of the original, which would be necessary for parody.

    Nevertheless, it is possible that your video might be a fair use, even if not a parody. The tricky question is whether it is a transformative, and therefore likely fair, use, or whether you have created a potentially infringing derivative work. If the question is whether or not the new use usurps a market that the rights holder in the original might reasonably be expected to exploit or license, I think a good case for a transformative fair use can be made. The introduction of a different class of information and the purpose of teaching library users a new form of (sort of) communication, seems to me to make this rather different than a translation or adaptation (the classic types of derivatives). But I would be very interested to hear what others think about this rather murky distinction.
  • Would a "for instance" of a potential market be, if Sesame Workshop (used to be the Childrens Television Workshop, which produced the show) were to produce videos about keeping kids safe on the Internet, and use some of its old skits?

  • Yep, that is the sort of market with which you might compete. In such a case, it might be more difficult to argue that yours was a transformative fair use.

    One way to resolve the doubts, of course, is simply to ask Sesame Workshop. If yours really is an original and transformative reuse of their original skit, it is hard to see why they would object, and their permission would put your concerns to rest.
  • I have tried contacting the copyright agent for Sesame Workshop directly. The email given on Sesame Workshop's website doesn't function. I faxed a letter to the person named on the site as well. If I have made a solid effort to contact them and get no response, could I dare post the video anyway?

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