Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (1994) was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2001, and was an extremely important decision regarding copyright fair use.
The case was based on a copyright infringement dispute over the song “Pretty Woman,” written and registered for copyright protection in 1964 by Roy Orbison, and famously associated with the motion picture of the same name. In 1989, the music group 2 Live Crew created a version of “Pretty Woman” which used the title lyrics and the opening instrumental riff of Orbison’s song.
Originally, 2 Live Crew (and the group’s publisher, Luke Skyywalker Records) had asked Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. (“Acuff-Rose”), the owner of the copyright to “Pretty Woman,” for permission to record and publish the group’s version of the song. When Acuff-Rose refused permission, 2 Live Crew released their version anyway, and Acuff-Rose subsequently sued for copyright infringement.
The case ended up before the Supreme Court after a lower court found for 2 Live Crew (“Campbell”) and Acuff-Rose successfully appealed. The question before the court was whether Campbell’s version of “Pretty Woman” fell inside fair use, and would preclude a finding of copyright infringement.
The court held that Campbell’s version of “Pretty Woman” was a parody that fell within the fair use exception of copyright law, and so did not constitute copyright infringement.
I agree with the court’s holding in this case. Parody is a form of social or political commentary, something that is important as part of our culture and democracy. The original “Pretty Woman,” as well as the movie it was associated with, gave a certain perspective on a controversial topic: prostitution. 2 Live Crew saw prostitution very differently in their lives, and their parody made exactly that point, and I believe that was the strongest part of the case. While the commercial nature of the parody worked against Campbell, I think the court made the right decision in weighing the other fair use factors more heavily.
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. 510 US 569. (1994). Retrieved from