Entertainment & Arts

Parody copyright laws set to come into effect

Media captionAn online mash-up parody of The Apprentice has been watched more than five million times

Changes to UK legislation are to come into force later this week allowing the parody of copyright works.

Under current rules, there has been a risk of being sued for breach of copyright if clips of films, TV shows or songs were used without consent.

But the European Copyright Directive will allow the use of the material so long as it is fair and does not compete with the original version.

The law will come into effect on 1 October.

Owners of the copyrighted works will only be able to sue if the parody conveys a discriminatory message.

It would then be down to a judge to decide if the parody is funny.

"The only, and essential, characteristics of parody are, on the one hand, to evoke an existing work while being noticeably different from it and, on the other, to constitute an expression of humour or mockery," the EU rules state.

"If a parody conveys a discriminatory message (for example, by replacing the original characters with people wearing veils and people of colour), the holders of the rights to the work parodied have, in principle, a legitimate interest in ensuring that their work is not associated with such a message."

'Being censored'

Cassette Boy, who is known for his online mash-up parodies of shows including The Apprentice and Dragons' Den, told the BBC's Clive Coleman that current rules meant he had to negotiate many legal issues which often led to frustration.

"It feels like our chosen form of expression is being censored," he said.

"It's like being a painter in a country where paint is illegal. In the past, our work has just disappeared from the internet overnight."

Comedy writer Graham Linehan, who was behind TV shows such as The IT Crowd, Father Ted and Black Books, agreed the rules had been "quite restrictive" in his experience.

"It seems harder to do innocent mentions of anything to represent something that is part of our lives," he told the BBC.

"Artists need to be protected, but recently there's been an automated quality to some of the legal challenges. You might do something and you know full well the author of the original work will love the thing you're doing and see it as a tribute or friendly nod, but the lawyers - they don't see any of that, they just see something they have to act on.

"We had an annoying thing recently where have a joke in the new series of Count Arthur Strong that involved a guy in a Predator costume and where the word 'predator' is the thing that makes it funny.

"Quite a long time after we wrote the script, we were told we couldn't use [the word], so we changed it to "alien bounty hunter" and suddenly the joke goes. It's ok, but it's not the joke we wanted."

Linehan added that the legislation change was "a brilliant thing".

"The thing it's most important and useful for, is the explosion of creativity that's come about because of the internet and the ability to share it," he said.

"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."

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