“Weird Al” Yankovic does it right.
In a 1994 case, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., the Supreme Court ruled a commercial parody may be fair use and not a copyright infringement.
Perhaps one of the most influential IP decisions, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose involved rap group 2 Live Crew member Luther Campbell changing the refrain of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” after asking Acuff-Rose, owner of the rights to Orbison’s music, for permission. The group proceeded without the OK, swapping the lyrics “pretty woman” to “big hairy woman,” baldheaded woman,” and “two-timing’ woman.” Consequently, Acuff-Rose Music sued on the grounds of copyright infringement.
The Court ruled in favor of Campbell, with Justice David Souter stating, “Parody, or in any event its comment, necessarily springs from recognizable allusion to its object through distorted imitation. Its art lies in the tension between a known original and its parodic twin.”
So go forth, creative songsters, and write that Mariah Carey parody. You have the Supreme Court’s blessing.