LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge ruled that anti-abortion videos featuring parts of a family planning clinic’s educational video are parodies under the fair use doctrine of copyright law.
Northland Family Planning Clinic, of Detroit, sued several anti-abortion for copyright infringement in 2011, after the defendants lifted parts of the clinic’s video, “Every Day, Good Women Choose Abortions,” for two online videos.
Named as defendants were Bio-Ethical Reform, Gregg Lee Cunningham, Donald Cooper, Seth Gruber, Todd Bullis, Reel to Real Ministries Inc. dba The Apologetics Groups, and Eric Holmberg.
The defendants’ two videos juxtaposed images from Northland’s video, with graphic images of alleged abortions, ominous music and Biblical citations.
After the release of the two videos, the clinic says, it abandoned plans to license “Every Day, Good Women Choose Abortions” to other clinics, or present the work at speaking engagements or seminars.
U.S. District Judge James Selna found that the defendants were entitled to fair use under the Copyright Act. Selna said that though the activists’ videos had some commercial use, the videos’ “transformative character eclipses that consideration.”
“In this case, the TAG and CBR videos are parodies of the Northland Video because they use segments of the Northland Video in alternation with macabre images of abortion procedures to deride the original work’s message that abortion is ‘normal’ and that good women choose to terminate their pregnancy,” Selna wrote, abbreviating The Apologetics Groups and Bio-Ethical Reform.
Northland claimed that the videos were not parodies because they were created to debate the issue of reproductive rights.
But Selna disagreed, noting in his 34-page order that it was clear from the anti-abortion videos that the makers were not interested in arguing “‘both sides’,” and that they copied the Northland video for the “purpose of attacking it.”
“In sum, there is no question of fact that the accused videos use the original to comment on and criticize that work specifically, and in the process, create a new work,” Selna wrote.
The judge rejected the claim that the videos failed as parodies because they were neither humorous nor made a comment on a work that was well known to the public.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines parody as a “literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule” or “a feeble or ridiculous imitation.”
Selna wrote that “humor is not a necessary element of parody” and that “a viewer unfamiliar with the Northland Video could nonetheless recognize that the accused videos were meant to ridicule the original.”
“Parody promotes the creativity copyright law is designed to foster whether the parodied work is a household name or completely unknown. The benefit of social commentary and criticism is not confined to works indicting the former,” Selna added.
Selna also found that the activists did not use an excessive amount of Northland’s creation to parody it, and “did not create a cognizable market injury,” satisfying the third and fourth factors in determining whether a work is a fair use under copyright law.
“Though Northland many have suffered pecuniary or reputational losses as a result of the accused videos, those injuries are not recognized under the Copyright Act. On balance, defendants’ use of the Northland video was fair,” Selna concluded.