Copyright Laws in Animation (Unit 4)

The idea of copyright is this…

  • An original creative work is difficult to make
  • It’s difficult to make a living from
  • Creativity is a relatively easy steal, as most time’s it’s as simple as copying it

So by giving an artist a legal protection from their work being copied, the artist now has a certain amount of time to try and make as much money as they can before it becomes legal for anyone to use/copy/distribute/perform it… because after that time limit, it enters the public domain.

The public domain is basically any art that isn’t owned. That stuff is free to use for any purpose: reimaginings, remixing or just straight up copying the whole thing. Most of it is just so old they seem like they’ve just always been there – like in the case of some books and music. Film is a different story and I’ll get to that after the bullets but here are some examples of works currently in the public domain;

  • Books: The works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and all the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
  • Music: Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Chopin, Mendelssohn (which is why nobody pays for the wedding march song) and Beethoven.
  • Film: Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors and the Fleisher Superman cartoon serials. There are favorite examples like It’s a Wonderful Life which is actually partially under copyright (the script and the music) which became a Christmas classic almost exclusively because it got a lot of air time on TV since there were no rights to pay. There’s also a particular comedic irony that “Reefer Madness”lapsed into the public domain because of an “improper copyright notice.” Fun.

Public domain is public property and Copyright is private property.


(Mimi and Eunice – “Fair Use?” by Nina Paley)

What’s the difference between “parody” and “satire”… and does it matter? First, let’s look at the definitions

  • Parodies are using a work in order to poke fun at or comment on the work itself.
  • Satires are using a work to poke fun at or comment on something else.


The distinction is pretty necessary because while parodies need to use more of a copyrighted work to comment on the work it’s representing, satire is more broad. In the eyes of a court, a “satirist’s ideas are capable of expression without the use of the other particular work.” So here’s the weird thing… many people are worried about using or even referencing copyrighted work in a parody, but parodies are actually more protected by fair use than broad satire is! For instance

  • Parody: You might be able to show Miley Cyrus riding the wrecking ball from Bob the Builder if you’re parodying the seriousness of her song/video with the marketing to young children.
  • Satire: You probably wouldn’t be able to use the song and imagery in a wider satirical visual statement on the music industry as a whole.

Weird Al Yankovic is known to “get permission” from the original artist before he puts out a parody song. Here’s the thing though, he doesn’t need to do that. What he does is covered under fair use by way of parody. He creates a new song which doesn’t infringe on the copyright holder’s ability to make money on the original… even though Weird Al is selling his parody. Making money on a parody you made of a copyrighted work is completely legal if your use of the original material is covered under fair use.



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