I've written a parody of a famous children's book, the original being a 60-line poem with illustrations (modern, so definitely within copyright). I've tried to get the parody as close to the poem as possible in terms of meter and rhyming scheme, and the story runs somewhat parallel, but the setting, characters, and overall themes are all polar opposites... there's going to be nearly no overlap in audience. The art style is going to be wildly different, so no risk of confusion there. As best as I can tell, I should have every aspect of Fair Use covered, which is what parody falls under.

The one part where this becomes questionable is in two early lines (lines 4 and 6), which are exact word-for-word copies of the original. This is deliberate, as these lines (and the overall premise) of the original is easily twisted into something very different if the lead character is anything other than a harmless, well-meaning children's book character. My question is, are two lines of a somewhat short poem sufficient to bring "fair use" into question? Or is that a small enough segment that the vast difference in everything else should sufficiently protect me?

  • Assuming you're talking US law, parodies have a notoriously patchy history of successfully claiming fair use. You may want to look into Dr Seuss Enterprises vs Penguin Books USA and check whether your work meets the criteria defined there. (I haven't put this as an answer because it doesn't address the issueof quantity of the work that you are asking specifically about) – occipita Sep 4 '20 at 10:05

Fair Use is really tricky because it's impossible to know for certain whether something squarely falls under fair use unless you go to court.

The less you copy, the greater chances you have of qualifying under fair use. I wish we had a more specific rule than this... but the doctrine is, unfortunately, ambiguous.

You're copying 3% of the poem, which puts you under the 10% rule of thumb. But remember that this rule of thumb has no legal teeth. But the majority of cases where works copied less than 10% of the source material (and satisfied all the other conditions of fair use) won in a court of law.

So, you're probably ok. But you'll never get a more specific answer outside of a courtroom.

Want to make 100% sure you're safe? Send your work to the copyright owner and ask for permission to publish it.

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