S.D.N.Y. Determines Family Guy Parody Is Protected by Fair Use
By Leocadie Welling – Edited by Joshua Gruenspecht
Bourne Co. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
S.D.N.Y, March 16, 2009, 07 Civ. 8580
Opinion (hosted by Exclusive Rights)
On March 16, 2009, Judge Batts of the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment for the defendants in a copyright infringement suit against the creators, producers and broadcasters of the television series Family Guy. Plaintiff Bourne Co. is the sole owner of the copyright to the popular song “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The plaintiff claimed that defendants had copied “When You Wish Upon a Star” in a “thinly veiled” manner in their song “I Need a Jew,” which appeared in an episode entitled “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein.”
Judge Batts first determined that “I Need a Jew” was parody, not satire, with a correspondingly greater need to borrow from source material. The court then established that the song satisfied the four-prong test for fair use forth set forth by the 1976 Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107, which, as developed by case law, places emphasis on the purpose and character of the use and the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted content. The court therefore held that the importation of the melody was protected fair use.
Reuters provides the basic facts. Exclusive Rights offers an overview of the opinion, examining the court’s treatment of the parody versus satire distinction and providing a brief video excerpt of “I Need a Jew.”
Legal Geekery also covers the opinion, characterizing it as a victory for fair use, and comments upon society’s willingness to depend on fair use as a shield against aggressive copyright enforcement.
The animated film site suite101 hosts an article providing background on the Family Guy spoof from an industry perspective.