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Publication and parodies

A reputable-sounding man (to judge from his online material) has asked me if I would be willing to publish the LOTR parodies. He says his motives for asking are selfish, in that his daughter (who pointed the parodies out to him) wants to use them for her school's theater class, where the students can only use published material. He suggests Lulu.com, where you can do these things for cheap - no setup fee; $4.35 fixed fee plus $.02/page on every print-on-demand book, then however much royalty you want to tack on, with Lulu taking 20%. I had looked into that for novels, but when you have 200 or more pages the prices add up a bit too high. (At least $10 for a paperback? Most readers wouldn't bother.) However, the parodies might only run to 25 pages or so, and thus could be affordable.

The main concern I have is copyright issues. I love these movies more than any other, and the book is in my top five favorites of all time, so it would be a personal disaster if I got slammed with a lawsuit over this, when the whole point of doing it was because I was an over-the-moon obsessed fan of LOTR. Granted, I doubt New Line or the Tolkien Estate would even notice - I think even at the height of the popularity of these silly things, I'm still well below their radar; and probably very few people would shell out cash for a printed copy when they can get the electronic version free right here on LJ. (Not to mention everywhere else it's being pasted.) So it's not as if I'd be getting rich and stealing consumers from New Line/Tolkien. Not at all.

Furthermore, I've looked up some fair use copyright information, and it looks like parody tends to slip past the net. It's always the exception they cite –
A parodist is permitted to borrow quite a bit, even the heart of the original work, in order to conjure up the original work. That's because, as the Supreme Court has acknowledged, "the heart is also what most readily conjures up the [original] for parody, and it is the heart at which parody takes aim. " (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994).)

Parody is given a slightly different fair use analysis with regard to the impact on the market. It's possible that a parody may diminish or even destroy the market value of the original work. That is, the parody may be so good that the public can never take the original work seriously again. Although this may cause a loss of income, it's not the same type of loss as when an infringer merely appropriates the work. As one judge explains, "The economic effect of a parody with which we are concerned is not its potential to destroy or diminish the market for the original--any bad review can have that effect--but whether it fulfills the demand for the original." (Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1986).)

Now, some people actually have told me that they'll never take the original films seriously again after reading the parodies, but somehow I don't think that's really true – not to the degree they mean here. I think, basically, I'm safe as long as nobody is saying, "Wow, now that I've read your parodies, I don't NEED to see the films!" And I don't think anyone would say that, since the parodies don't even make sense if you haven't seen the films. (Or, at least, they're not nearly as funny.)

I've also learned you can't slap on a disclaimer and expect it to protect you from all legal smackdowns. Disclaimers help keep the public from being confused, but that's about all. Still, wouldn't it help if I did put a preface on the thing, saying, "I love these movies and these books, and everyone should see them and read them first before they read this"? (As well as saying, naturally, that I did not create the characters and place-names and so forth.)

Furthermore, I was thinking that I could almost pass off the things as a film review – that's really all they are, in a sense. And Dave Barry did exactly the same thing as me – a parody script of 'The Two Towers' – in his column last year, and surely he got paid for that and didn't have to apologize to anyone. So how would it be different if I sold the parodies as a book? Do newspaper articles/columns get a free ride that books do not? I sort of doubt it.

So unless one of you tells me otherwise, I'm going to assume that this is a decent, non-disastrous idea, and may attempt to go ahead with it.

However, you know what this means, don't you? It means I have to finally write a proper condensed-parody-script version of 'Fellowship,' as well. Having two out of three just isn't complete. Guess I have to get cracking on that before I do anything else. Hoo boy…

P.S. How much should one ask as a performance royalty, if anyone wants to use it as an actual theater script? I've just got no idea. 25 bucks?



( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2003 01:17 pm (UTC)
I think it's a fun idea. I don't know much about law, but I've seen parodies for sale, like Bored of the Rings, and Barry Trotter.
Dec. 22nd, 2003 08:29 pm (UTC)
True, there are those. But, then, those just use similar names, whereas I'd be using the characters' names and the title flat-out: here it is, world; a LORD OF THE RINGS parody! And I don't know if I'm allowed to do that. Heh.
Dec. 22nd, 2003 02:51 pm (UTC)
I think you're fine. Disney tried to sue a bunch of underground coomics artists for parodying Mickey Mouse back in the 60s, and the artists won.
Dec. 22nd, 2003 08:31 pm (UTC)
They do seem to sue over image copyright rather more often than written material, sounds like. But, still, as I said in the above comment, I don't know if I'm allowed to use all the character names and titles with no alteration whatsoever.
Dec. 23rd, 2003 08:48 am (UTC)
Change their names to Legless, Photo, Poppin, Grand Master Alf, Mercy and Wamsize (or something like that) :P

(Wamsize has a porno ring to it....)
Dec. 23rd, 2003 04:41 pm (UTC)
Hahah...those ALL have something of a porno ring to them, but yeah, Wamsize especially. Oh, dear...
Dec. 22nd, 2003 03:11 pm (UTC)
My Aunt just got me "The Soddit" (Bored of the Rings series)

Haven't read any of it but thought of you when I saw it.

Good luck with all this... I don't have any advice outside of...

Now that you're starting to become a cult favorite you should dress the part. Captains hats, smoking jackets, cigarette holder clamped tightly between your teeth at all times and rant constantly about your agent screwing you out of t-shirt royalties.

Dec. 22nd, 2003 08:32 pm (UTC)
I've not read Bored of the Rings either, but have heard good things about it.

Heheh...you're right; it is high time I altered my image. I was thinking I'd also pose with a margarita held high on the back cover of the book jacket. That's the kind of thing self-publishers do.
Dec. 22nd, 2003 03:28 pm (UTC)
25 bucks as a royalty fee per performance is a bit steep for a self-published work. As someone who has used people's self-published theatre pieces before, the royalties were 10 bucks or less per performance and usually "free" for school use. To keep this in perspective, Larry Shue's estate usually charges between 25-40 dollars as a royalty fee for his plays - and he won two Obies and a New York Critics award. Honestly, what I'd do is self-publish and charge a 5 to 7 dollar fee per performance unless used by a school or charitable organization. Drama classes and whatnot would be more likely to pick it up as such and you'd get your name out there. From there, a spin may occur. You could shoot yourself in the foot by charging too high of a fee which could cause your parodies to collect dust. It's all about PR at this stage, baybeh.

[You could also ask people to contact you if they would like to perform it at first. If it starts to become a semi-well known thing, then start charging a fee which you would routinely increase based on demand.]
Dec. 22nd, 2003 08:38 pm (UTC)
Ah, good - forgot I had someone with recent school theatre experience on my friends list! Duh. :) For some reason I had $50 in my head as the royalty for regular plays, and considerably higher for musicals. Not sure where I got that.

I'm tempted to do the whole thing without royalties, just to avoid trouble. I never expected to make any money off this anyway. The nice thing would just be the note on the resumé about publication experience.

Actually, one or two people did contact me last year to ask if they could try to perform it. They seemed to be high school kids. I told 'em to go for it and have fun, and never heard more about it. The parodies weren't really written for the stage, and would require some editing, but I could see it being similar to those condensed-Shakespeare pieces people do. Always did like those.

Anyhow, I shall have to round out the set by doing 'Fellowship,' first. And in the meantime I'm emailing New Line to ask if they, for one, would have any objections to this plan. Chances are nobody will answer, but at least I can say I asked...
Dec. 23rd, 2003 08:39 am (UTC)
Musicals do tend to be expensive... as do certain plays (for example, Tennessee Williams). I think it is a good idea to go fee-less at this stage. :)
Dec. 22nd, 2003 08:32 pm (UTC)
my dim understanding of these things indicates that the best way to avoid any potential legal hassle is for neither you nor anyone else to ever make any money off them at all

beyond that, I tend to agree that you wouldn't face any dire immediate jeopardy - and, in this kooky world, a smidgen of controversy is often 'leverageable' for future gain

but I advise against any disclaimers except the ones lawyers instruct you to include - the love of the story comes through quite clearly in your parodies and I think disclaimers tend to taint things with the disruptive whiff of apology
Dec. 22nd, 2003 08:43 pm (UTC)
Aye...as I just answered ten_fifteen, I'm thinking zero royalties might be safest, since these were never meant to be more than a labor of love. If theater troupes want to perform them, then hey, I'm thrilled; just keep my name on it. Ideally I'll actually get to see such a performance someday. :)

And we'll see if New Line emails me back to say anything one way or the other. I basically licked their boots in gratitude for the greatness of the films, and asked if they'd have any issue with my publishing the parodies and selling maybe ten copies if I'm lucky. And thanked them again for the films. And promised I wasn't stalking them, really.
Dec. 22nd, 2003 09:10 pm (UTC)
By the way, I just threw this icon together, thinking of your "Jesus image" comment (and another article that said the same thing). Someone had ROTK icons up for the taking. Spoilerrific!
Dec. 22nd, 2003 09:26 pm (UTC)
Ooooohh! there's a pervy hobbit fancier in me just waiting to come out, I know it...

Seriously, though, this reminds me of that very biblical shot of him - in TTT, I think - looking up at someone with a piteous expression while wearing that green hood.

There's something haunting about the idea of those ships and who takes them... the idea that a certain experience can so wound and warp and transfigure you that you are No Longer of This World.

I suspect it also helps to have giant blue saucer-eyes.
Dec. 25th, 2003 09:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, he had some serious Caravaggio moments in some of those pictures. And I swear there's one of those TTT shots that appeared in the trailer but nowhere in the movie, not even the EE. Hrmmm. (Not with the hood, but rolling his eyes weakly skyward in dread.)

Careful on that pervy-hobbit-fancier slope. It is indeed slippery.
Dec. 25th, 2003 09:29 pm (UTC)
It is indeed slippery.

uhh ... no comment ...
Dec. 27th, 2003 12:00 pm (UTC)
Oof. I've got to watch what I say around here. :D

Well, the way Denethor was splashing that oil around, ROTK was looking rather slippery...
Dec. 23rd, 2003 10:36 am (UTC)
have you seen this? woke up to this one today on my friends page.

Dec. 23rd, 2003 03:09 pm (UTC)
Ack! So that would count as "not safe for work," eh?

Heheh...yeah, I've seen it. The Theban Band has done several pretty photo-manips like it. Someone printed out one featuring Merry and Pip in a rather similar pose, and asked Dominic to sign it, at some gathering. There's a great series of photos of his face when he saw what it was. (Jaw drops, then with mischievous smile forming, he flips it around to show the crowd.) What a good sport. :D
Dec. 23rd, 2003 08:45 pm (UTC)
There's a great series of photos of his face when he saw what it was. (Jaw drops, then with mischievous smile forming, he flips it around to show the crowd.)

Where are those photos? Are they online?
Dec. 24th, 2003 03:19 pm (UTC)
Found two at the Bag End Inn:

Dec. 24th, 2003 03:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I am now in hysterics. :)
Dec. 29th, 2003 03:42 pm (UTC)
I knew I'd seen this statement somewhere, it's on the homepage.

And I quote:
"LiveJournal is a simple-to-use (but extremely powerful and customizable) personal publishing ("blogging") tool, built on open source software."

The use of personal publishing tools results in published works. I might be splitting hairs but by placing material into the public portions of this very journal you have published it. As such, it should already meet the instructor's requirement.
Dec. 30th, 2003 05:37 pm (UTC)
Good point. :) I think that the teacher specified that web publishing doesn't count, however. Alas.
Dec. 31st, 2003 06:42 am (UTC)
Curses, foiled again.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )