Seth MacFarlane just can’t seem to keep out of trouble – especially when hypersensitive overreacting IP owners want to stifle creativity in its crib by suing him (bias alert! bias alert!).
In a 2003 episode of Family Guy, When You Wish Upon A Weinstein, Peter Griffin sings a song to the tune of “When You Wish Upon A Star” called “I Need A Jew“.
I Need a Jew
Nothing else has worked so far
So I’ll wish upon a star
Wonderous shining speck of light
I need a Jew
Lois makes me take the rap
Cause our checkbook looks like crap
Since I can’t give her a slap
I need a Jew
Where to find
A Baum or Steen or Stein
To teach me how to whine and do
Though by many they’re abhored
Hebrew people I’ve adored
Even though they killed my Lord
I need a Jew
Hi, my name’s Max Weinstein,
my car just broke down,
can I use you phone?
Now my troubles are all through
I have a Jew!
A mere four years later, the current owner of the copyright to When You Wish Upon a Star files suit for copyright infringement. Complaint here.
This lawsuit is doomed and it should be.
Why it is doomed:
Family Guy’s use is protected by the doctrine of Fair Use.
The four factors to consider when determining whether a potential infringement is Fair Use are:
1. the purpose and character of the otherwise-infringing use
2. the nature of the copyrighted work
3. the amount taken from the original, and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for the original.
The purpose and character of “I Need a Jew” is clearly parody. In the copyright context, parody’s protection is well established by Campbell v. Acuff Rose. The song parodies Disney, anti-semitic beliefs that “Jews are good with money,” and the original song itself. You can’t parody the original without using some of the original.
The key factor in determining fair use is usually the effect of the parody on the market for the original. I don’t know, maybe they will be able to find some homeless person who will come in to court for a pint of muscatel and say that he was going to buy a copy of When You Wish Upon A Star, but he decided to buy a Family Guy DVD instead. Short of that, the Plaintiff is screwed.
Why it is Good that this Suit Will Fail
Fair use and parody is a cornerstone of free expression. Whether you like Family Guy or not, the First Amendment protects your right to criticize, parody, and ridicule. Yes, even if the subject of that parody or ridicule does not particularly care for the result. The complaint itself is a bit overboard — it attempts to paint Family Guy as a bastion of anti-semitism instead of sticking to the facts. Of course, we all try and tell a little bit of a story in a complaint, but whoever wrote this complaint went a little too far.
Not only will the suit fail, but that failure should be embraced as a victory for all of us, because a contrary result would be a terrible dimunition of all of our Constitutional rights.