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Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.

Supreme Court of the United States

November 9, 1993, Argued ; March 7, 1994, Decided

No. 92-1292


 [1962]   [*571]  [***511]  [**1167]    JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

 We are called upon to decide whether 2 Live Crew's commercial parody of Roy Orbison's song, "Oh, Pretty Woman,"  [*572]  may be a fair use within the meaning of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107 (1988 ed. and Supp. IV). Although the District Court granted summary judgment for 2 Live Crew, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding the defense of fair use barred by the song's  [**1168]  commercial character and excessive borrowing. Because we hold that a parody's commercial character is only one element to be weighed in a fair use enquiry, and that insufficient consideration was given to the nature of parody in weighing the degree of copying, we reverse and remand.

In 1964, Roy Orbison and William Dees wrote a rock ballad called "Oh, Pretty Woman" and assigned their [****8]  rights in it to respondent Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. See Appendix A, infra, at 594. Acuff-Rose registered the song for copyright protection.

Petitioners Luther R. Campbell, Christopher Wongwon, Mark Ross, and David Hobbs are collectively known as 2 Live Crew, a popular rap music group. 2 In 1989, Campbell wrote a song entitled "Pretty Woman," which he later described in an affidavit as intended, "through comical lyrics, to satirize the original work . . . ." App. to Pet. for Cert. 80a. On July 5, 1989, 2 Live Crew's manager informed Acuff-Rose that 2 Live Crew had written a parody of "Oh, Pretty Woman," that they would afford all credit for ownership and authorship of the original song to Acuff-Rose, Dees, and Orbison, and that they were willing to pay a fee for the use they wished to make of it. Enclosed with the letter were a copy of the  [1963]  lyrics and a recording of 2 Live Crew's song. See Appendix B, infra, at 595. Acuff-Rose's agent refused permission, stating that "I am aware of the success  [*573]  enjoyed by 'The 2 Live  [***512]  Crews', but I must inform you that we cannot permit the use of a parody of 'Oh, Pretty Woman.'" App. to Pet. for Cert. 85a. Nonetheless,  [****9]  in June or July 1989, 3 2 Live Crew released records, cassette tapes, and compact discs of "Pretty Woman" in a collection of songs entitled "As Clean As They Wanna Be." The albums and compact discs identify the authors of "Pretty Woman" as Orbison and Dees and its publisher as Acuff-Rose.

 [****10]   Almost a year later, after nearly a quarter of a million copies of the recording had been sold, Acuff-Rose sued 2 Live Crew and its record company, Luke Skyywalker Records, for copyright infringement. The District Court granted summary judgment for 2 Live Crew, 4 reasoning that the commercial purpose of 2 Live Crew's song was no bar to fair use; that 2 Live Crew's version was a parody, which "quickly degenerates into a play on words, substituting predictable lyrics with shocking ones" to show "how bland and banal the Orbison song" is; that 2 Live Crew had taken no more than was necessary to "conjure up" the original in order to parody it; and that it was "extremely unlikely that 2 Live Crew's song could adversely affect the market for the original." 754 F. Supp. 1150, 1154-1155, 1157-1158 (MD Tenn. 1991). The District Court weighed these factors and held that 2 Live Crew's song made fair use of Orbison's original. Id., at 1158-1159.

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510 U.S. 569 *; 114 S. Ct. 1164 **; 127 L. Ed. 2d 500 ***; 1994 U.S. LEXIS 2052 ****; 29 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1961; 62 U.S.L.W. 4169; Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P27,222; 94 Cal. Daily Op. Service 1662; 94 Daily Journal DAR 2958; 22 Media L. Rep. 1353; 7 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 800



Disposition: 972 F.2d 1429, reversed and remanded.


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Copyright Law, Scope of Copyright Protection, Collective & Derivative Works, Derivative Works, Ownership Rights, General Overview, Distribution, Reproductions, Defenses, Fair Use, Fair Use Determination, Factors, Business & Corporate Compliance, Likelihood of Confusion, Confusion Among Noncompeting Products, Parodies & Satires, Protected Subject Matter, Literary Works, Subject Matter, Civil Infringement Actions, Elements, Copying by Defendants, Copyright Infringement Actions, Real Property Law, Estates, Concurrent Ownership, Presumptions, Adaptations, Preparation of Derivative Works