The 1978 musical ‘Grease’ is world-renowned for its depiction of a love story between, biker, Danny Zuko, and Australian transfer student Sandy Olsson. The musical picks up on time-relevant themes such as gossip, love and romance, high school, peer pressure and friendships within the 50s, and is known for the main character’s love story.
It comes as no surprise that schools all over the world have put on productions of the film as replicas, however, one group of comedians have created a parody version of the much-loved classic in the USA and have faced ongoing legal battles concerning the copyright protection of the themes, music and names.
The spoof show, titled ‘Vape: The Musical’ used mirroring themes from ‘Grease’, including millennial slang, exaggeration within the plot, popular culture, and high school experiences, all in an effort to criticise its original sexist tones and out-dated elements.
The comedic group behind the parody faced a court in New York last week to seek judicial confirmation that their spoof show appears under a US Copyright exemption, known as ‘fair use’. This is similar to that of the parody and pastiche exemption within the UK’s Copyright laws.
This trial exists following the producer’s [Sketchwork’s] insistence that its parody musical does not infringe on any Copyright work from ‘Grease’ due to the ‘fair use’ exemption. This would mean that the company would be able to perform their parody show without gaining permission from the musical’s original Copyright owners first: Concord, Jacobs, or The Casey estate.
However, even though the owners of the original copyright works in ‘Grease’ wanted the case dismissed on the basis that sufficient controversy did not exist for the need of the court’s to intervene, the New York court declined to dismiss the lawsuit, following the lack of any formal confirmation that the ‘Grease’ creators would never sue if the performances continued.
In a previous hearing on this case, the party representing the ‘Grease’ Copyright owners discussed their uncertainties regarding the possibilities of taking subsequent infringement action if Sketchworks continued to present the show, this caused the court to decline the lawsuit’s dismissal.
A legal representative for Sketchworks has said they are “hopeful that the court will soon declare that the parody musical falls within the ‘fair use’ exemption’ and will be cleared for the continued production of its show.
Keep checking our Reading Room for updates regarding this ongoing case, and for any concerns regarding Copyright, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Lawdit team.