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A form of speech protected by the First Amendment as a "distorted imitation" of an original work for the purpose of commenting on it.

The use of parody as a means to express political and social views has a long history in the United States. Every president of the United States, including George Washington, has been the subject of satire and parody, often in the form of political cartoons. The cartoons, caricatures, and other forms of parody and satire typically distort and overly emphasize certain aspects of the subject's physical characteristics, such as Abraham Lincoln's lanky posture, franklin d. roosevelt's jutting jaw and cigarette holder, ronald reagan's long face and slick, black hair, and bill clinton's large nose and red cheeks. Although often comical, political cartoons and other forms of satire and parody have often immortalized the individuals portrayed.

Parody and satire can be used for purposes beyond lighthearted comic intent. Many political cartoons, for example, have influenced the course of national debate. For instance, Thomas Nast, the famous nineteenth-century political cartoonist, published a series of post–Civil War cartoons in Harper's Weekly characterizing the activities of William M. "Boss" Tweed and other corrupt politicians in New York City's Tammany Hall political machine. More recently, countless political cartoonists drew caricatures of Clinton with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom Clinton had an affair. Clinton's dishonesty regarding the affair eventually led to his Impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1998.

Some forms of parody and satire are difficult to distinguish from truthful publications. Moreover, many forms of parody and satire can be particularly offensive to the subject of the parody. As a result, publication of various types of parody often involves litigation over libel, slander, and other types of Defamation.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the most famous case involving the use of parody in Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 108 S. Ct. 816, 99 L. Ed. 2d 41 (1988). In 1983, the adult magazine Hustler published a parody of an advertisement for Campari Liqueur, which featured Jerry Falwell, a nationally recognized evangelist who is well known for his conservative commentary on political and social issues. The original advertisements contained interviews with celebrities discussing the "first time" they had consumed Campari. Hustler's parody used a layout similar to the original advertisement, but included a fictitious interview with Falwell where he stated that his "first time" occurred with his mother in an outhouse.

Falwell brought suit, alleging libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court found in favor of Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt, on the libel claim because the court found that no reasonable person would have believed the advertisement to be true. However, the court found Hustler and Flynt liable for intentional infliction for emotional distress. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling.

The Supreme Court, per Justice william rehnquist, reversed the Fourth Circuit. The Court has held in a line of cases regarding defamation that the First Amendment requires a plaintiff who is a public official or a public figure to demonstrate "actual malice," meaning it must be proven that the person being accused showed a reckless disregard as to whether a statement was true or false. These cases generally apply to claims of Libel and Slander brought by public officials or public figures.

After reviewing a brief history of the use of parody in the United States, the Court found that the actual malice standard applies to cases involving intentional infliction of emotional distress as well. Since Falwell was unquestionably a public figure under the Court's analysis, he had to prove actual malice on the part of Hustler. The Court also rejected a claim by Falwell that this particular form of parody was so outrageous that it should not be the subject of First Amendment protection. This case establishes that the First Amendment protects forms of parody and satire involving public figures or public officials against a variety of claims, including libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Parody also involves the application of other laws. Because many parodies mimic or copy other publications, the parodies may implicate Copyright and other Intellectual Property laws. In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 114 S. Ct. 1164, 127 L. Ed. 2d 500 (1994), the Court reviewed whether a parody of Roy Orbison's song,"Oh, Pretty Woman," by the rap group 2 Live Crew violated the Copyright Act of 1976. The court of appeals held that the parody did not constitute fair use under copyright law, primarily due to its commercial character. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the commercial character of the song did not create a presumption that the parody violated fair use.

Further readings

Beck, Joseph M. 2003. "Copyright and the First Amendment after The Wind Done Gone." Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment Law and Practice 5 (spring).

Post, Robert C. 1990."The Constitutional Concept of Public Discourse: Outrageous Opinion, Democratic Deliberation, and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell." Harvard Law Review 103 (January).

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. the humorous use of an existing song, play, speaker or writing which changes the words to give farcical and ironic meaning. Parodies have been challenged as copyright infringements on the original works, particularly since some have reaped terrific profits. Recent decisions favor the parodies and say they have an originality of their own and, thus, are not infringements. There is a free speech issue involved in these decisions since parodies traditionally have social and political significance.

(See: copyright)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
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