Parody is a protected form of free speech as long as it isn’t too good



With IP law, you know in advance that the big boys are heavily favored to win. The suspense is in the legal twists and turns getting there.

From Terence Chua's thesis, "Messing with the Mouse."

In 1971, Disney sued a group of underground comic artists calling themselves the Air Pirates, who published two comics portraying Walt Disney characters in sex and drug-related situations. The resulting case lasted 8 years and ended in a settlement where both sides claimed victory. This thesis uses the case to examine the development of the law of copyright and parody as a defense and demonstrate that the court tends to rule against the parodist if the work is offensive or obscene, although these are irrelevant concerns. It also examines the case itself and the cultural and personal forces motivating the parody.

O'Neill's affidavit was positively lyrical in justifying the artistic reasons behind Air Pirates Funnies, but it contained language that ultimately proved damaging to the Air Pirates' arguments. O'Neill stated that he drew cartoons to "relieve a basic human anxiety pattern, hysteria," by means of laughter. Mickey Mouse, he deposed, had started as a positive image, but as people grew older, it became a "non-positive adjective." To investigate why it had degenerated, O'Neill said he "chose to parody exactly the style of drawing and characters to evoke the response created by Disney (emphasis in original)."
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[From here on, all emphasis added]

The Ninth Circuit delivered its 15-page decision on September 5, 1978, ruling (Read more...)