Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose Music Overview

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In 1994,the case of Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music, Inc was decided in the Supreme Court. The members of music group 2 Live Crew were being sued for composing a parody song of Roy Orbisons song Oh, Pretty Woman. The rap group had asked permission from Acuff-Ross Music for a license of the tune of Roy Orbisons rock ballad for a song they wanted to create. Without permission from the company to use the tune, the rap group made and released the parody. After nearly a quarter of a million copies of the parody was sold, Acuff-Rose sued the rap group on the grounds of copyright infringement.

In the District Court, a summary judgment was granted because the courts held the parody was using the fair use of the original song under 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 (Wikipedia), under the reasoning that 2 Live Crews parody held no adverse impact on the market for the original song and made a play on words to show how bland and banal the Orbison song was (Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music, Inc).

The Court of Appeals reverse the lower court in stating previous case law of Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. in 1984, which held that "every commercial use . . . is presumptively . . . unfair,". Also the appeals court held that under the first four factors of the Copyright Act 107, which is the commercial nature of the parody made it unfair, meaning that the heart of the new material was made up the heart of the original, 2 Live Crew had taken too much of the original song and market was harmed in the attaching of commercial usage.

The Supreme Court Held, in a unanimous decision, held that the District Courts were correct in assuming the commercial nature of a parody does not render it a presumptively unfair use of copyright material. In other words, looking at the nature of the selection of the parody. the purpose was to criticize the blandness of the original song. Also, the parody did not adversely affect the original work, making the commercial character...
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