Grease parody ruled fair use by US court
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By Chris Cooke | Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2022
A sketch comedy group in the United States won court confirmation last week that their mocking “Grease” production “Vape: The Musical” is a parody of the show it pokes fun at and therefore does not infringe copyrights. author of the original due to fair use principle.
‘Vape: The Musical’ was created by Sketchworks who said the show “uses millennial slang, popular culture, a modern lens and exaggeration to comment on the plot, structure, issues and themes of ‘Grease’ and to criticize its misogynistic and sexist elements”.
The comedy outfit became legal in 2019 after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from music publisher Concord’s theatrical division, which represents the rights to “Grease” on behalf of its creators, Jim Jacobs and the late Warren Casey.
The publisher argued that “Vape” was exploiting the rights of “Grease” and therefore any performance of the former would require permission from the owners of the latter.
But as far as Sketchworks goes, his musical was covered under the fair use principle of US copyright law, which means it didn’t need the publisher’s permission.” Grease” to create and present his show. His lawsuit sought court confirmation of this fact.
Concord later withdrew its cease and desist letter, and attorneys for Jacobs and Casey’s estate requested that the Sketchworks lawsuit be dismissed on the grounds that there was no longer an active dispute.
However, the judge handling the case allowed him to continue, as neither Concord — nor Jacobs and the Casey estate — would provide formal confirmation that they would not sue if “Vape” was played.
Regarding Sketchworks’ fair use argument, defendants countered that “Vape” was more of a commentary on society as a whole rather than “Grease” specifically, meaning that the adaptation and exploitation of the musical “Grease” by the comedy group was not fair use for reasons of parody. .
But Judge Laura Swain disagreed. “Defendants overlook the manner in which ‘Vape’ pokes fun at various specific elements of ‘Grease’, including plot absurdities,” she wrote in her judgment last week.
“For example,” she continued, “at the start of ‘Vape,’ when the play takes Danny and Sandy’s summer vacation to the beach at the start of the school year, Frenchy explains to Sandy that Rydell High School is ‘the only school where everyone randomly launches into a choreographed song and dance, and we all look like we’re at least 30′, poking fun at the ‘Grease’ actors’ more mature appearances [the movie] and the propensity of their characters to embark on coordinated routines of song and dance”.
Judge also noted the aforementioned criticism of the misogynistic and sexist elements of “Grease.” For example, “Vape capitalizes on Sandy’s decision to forgive a man who abused her. In ‘Vape’, she also accepts Danny’s apology, but adds: ‘Fortunately for you, society has taught me to give unlimited chances to men who don’t deserve it’”.
‘Vape’ also criticizes Grease’s happy ending, Judge continued, “in which Sandy decides to change and get greasy in order to be in a relationship with Danny. ‘Vape’ incorporates sarcastic new dialogue into the script to comment Sandy’s decision”.
“Sandy says to Frenchy, ‘I want Danny back. Frenchy, I’m going to change everything about me for him,’ and Frenchy sarcastically replies, ‘That’s great to hear. You definitely won’t regret it later…didn’t never said nobody… Let’s go to my house for this totally useless makeover”.
Swain also rejected defendants’ argument that each edit to “Grease” should be separately justified as a commentary on the original work, concluding that such clarification is not necessary to conclude that “Vape” in its together is a parody of “Grease”, and therefore a fair use of the original material.
Commenting on the judgment, a legal representative for Sketchworks told Law360: “It was so obvious the first time I saw ‘Vape’ that it was a fair use parody of ‘Grease’, and we are delighted (but not surprised) that Judge Swain came to the same conclusion”.