Legal Considerations When Consumer Opinion Web Sites Parody Companies or Brands

By Yoon, Tae-Il | Communications and the Law, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Legal Considerations When Consumer Opinion Web Sites Parody Companies or Brands


Yoon, Tae-Il, Communications and the Law


As the Internet has become a "modern symbol of the classical market of ideas," (1) consumer opinion sites that parody companies or brands have become popular in the cyberspace. This article examines various legal issues and cases that might be applicable to parody sites in the light of copyright laws, trademark laws, libel laws, and service provider liability. Looking at a possibility that parody sites can lie in the tension between free speech rights, intellectual property interests, and libel issues, this article discusses how parody sites can enjoy First Amendment freedoms by avoiding legal pitfalls.

"The explosion of the Internet is not without its growing pains. It is an efficient means for business to disseminate information, but it also affords critics of those businesses an equally efficient means of disseminating critical commentary." (2)

The term "parody" originated from the Greek word parodeia, which means "a song sung alongside another." Parody, as a form of artistic expression, is "a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule." (3) It is a very effective literary form that can be used to criticize, satirize, and ridicule a target. Parody sites have become popular in cyberspace. The World Wide Web and digital manipulation technology provide Internet users with opportunities to create parody sites for use as a critical forum. By way of ridicule and imitation, parody sites can be embodied as political sites (4) or consumer opinion sites. (5)

As with political parody sites that try to expose politicians' questionable practices, consumer opinion sites have become both easy and popular ways for unsatisfied consumers to criticize, complain, and parody companies. (6) In the days before the Internet, consumers unsatisfied with a company had little recourse for their complaint; today, the Internet has empowered consumers. As commercial transactions in cyberspace increase, the ability for consumers to publish their complaints increases. The Internet has become a "modern symbol of the classical market of ideas." (7)

As the U.S. Supreme Court in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (8) declared, parody is protected speech under the First Amendment. However, the precise boundaries of legitimate parody sites sometimes are difficult to define. (9) The ways in which parody sites can be protected under the First Amendment differ according to the type of speech involved. (10) Under the First Amendment, commercial speech usually is less protected than is noncommercial speech. Unfortunately, the distinction between commercial and non-commercial speech is unclear, particularly in the Internet environment. Even though a parody site can be treated as noncommercial speech, it may be involved with intellectual property infringements or defamations. The assertion of "parody" in consumer opinion sites is not a simple answer to this problem. Thus, protection of parody sites may lie in the tension between free speech rights, intellectual property interests, and libel issues. (11)

This article investigates the types of legal aspects that consumers, to enjoy First Amendment freedoms, should consider when using parodies in consumer opinions sites. In conclusion, it discusses how parody sites can enjoy free speech rights and avoid legal pitfalls.

COPYRIGHT ISSUES

Copyright laws usually give a copyright owner the exclusive right to control duplication of writings or other intellectual property. In the United States, the first federal copyright law was adopted in 1790, while current copyright protection was granted by the 1976 Copyright Act. In response to the development of new media technology, Congress and the courts were forced to make changes in the copyright law, and in 1998 Congress made some major revisions. (12)

Fair Use Doctrine

To claim that their copyrights have been infringed, authors must prove: (1) that they originally created the work, (2) that they own valid copyrights, (3) that others had access to their copyrighted work, and (4) that another's work is substantially similar to the original. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Legal Considerations When Consumer Opinion Web Sites Parody Companies or Brands
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.