Copyright is the legal right conferred upon the owner of intellectual property. Copyright grants an exclusive right to the original creators to further develop them for a given amount of time. Copyright laws ensure that the artist’s best interest is protected and provides a safeguard towards his work from piracy. It shields the creator’s expression of ideas. It further promotes creativity by securing the already created work and thereby curbs unwarranted replication and piracy.
A parody, on the other hand, is comment and criticism on someone else’s work which is often humorous and imitates the style of a well-known person or represents a familiar situation in an exaggerated way.
Origin of Parody
The word ‘parody’ has a Greek Origin and is derived from the word “paroidia” (burlesque poem) which is a compound of the two words para- ‘beside’ (expressing alteration) + ōidē ‘ode’ (song).
The first usage of the word parody in English cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is in Ben Jonson, in Every Man in His Humour in 1598: “A Parodie, a parodie! to make it absurder than it was.” The next citation comes from John Dryden in 1693, who also appended an explanation, suggesting that the word was in common use, meaning to make fun of or re-create what you are doing.
The Conflict: Copyright v/s Parody
A parody, in nature, is a work of criticism, therefore, it is inevitable for a parodist not to use another person’s work. This naturally gives birth to the conflict between the parody and the work that is being parodied. It is also very unlikely that a holder of copyright will let some other people make use of his artistic work, let alone grant permission to be made a mockery of. We are aware that copyright law prohibits the use of a copyrighted work without the consent of the copyright owner, and it is highly unlikely that a copyright holder will give permission for his work to be parodied, i.e. made fun of. Therefore, the parodist relies intensively on the defence of fair-use allowing them to dodge any copyright infringement charges.
Section 52 of the Indian Copyright Act in this regard states that “a fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of criticism or review, whether of that work or of any other work will not amount to copyright infringement”. However, as far as severe implications of copyright law are concerned, parodies exist in a grey area, and the determination of whether any particular parody is legal or not could be extremely subjective. Parodies are neither explicitly allowed nor disallowed under the Copyright Act.
In RG Anand v M/S Delux Films, the Supreme Court held that “one of the surest and the safest test to determine whether or not there has been a violation of copyright is to see if the reader, spectator or the viewer after having read or seen both the works is clearly of the opinion and gets an unmistakable impression that the subsequent work appears to be a copy of the original.”The court further said that “where the theme is the same but is presented and treated differently so that the subsequent work becomes a completely new work, no question of violation of copyright arises.
The question of fair dealing came up for consideration in Civic Chandran v. Ammini Amma. The defendants had published a play “Ningal Are Communistakki”, that was intended to be a critique of a famous play “Ningal Enna Communistakki”. The court referred to Hubbard v. Vosper (supra) and RG Anand and concluded that the play was meant to be a critique and therefore, constituted fair dealing under section 52. It observed that the latter work was not a market competitor to the prior work, and by itself constituted a literary work with some amount of originality. Moreover, the Court held that the nature of the work, that is to criticize the social structures in Kerala, by itself meant that certain sequences, events and incidents would be common to both the prior and the subsequent work and that the latter was not meant to imitate the former. The injunction was, therefore, denied.
Parodies are not a new concept in India, and they provide a new humorous take on creative work. They have a mass appeal but, with the arrival of the digital age, where it doesn’t take much time for a video to go viral on social networking sites and the rest of the internet, the vast impact that these parodies inflict have substantially increased. These parodies often cross the said ‘line of creativity’ and begin to intrude on the rights instilled in the work or sometimes outrightly abuse or humiliate the work or its creator. Therefore, it is all the more necessary to strike a balance between parodies and IP rights.
Raja Sharma, Comedy in New Light-Literary Studies, Page 237.
 1978 AIR 1613.
 1996(16) PTC 670.