Campaigners: we need right to parody

Open Rights Group and a coalition of campaigning organisations (Greenpeace, Action Aid, Global Poverty Project, Church Action on Poverty, and Campaign Against the Arms Trade) have today written to Baroness Wilcox at the Department for Business, Industry and Skills to highlight how, in the absence of a parody ‘exception’, copyright affects our ability to campaign as effectively as possible.

In the absence of a parody exception, copyright effectively gives copyright holders a veto over activity society should be encouraging – legitimate creative or critical engagement with the cultural works around us. The problems were laid clear last year by the treatment of Greenpeace’s campaign using Volkwagen’s ‘Star Wars’ adverts.

We’ve been running a website about the need for a new exception, with support from the likes of comedian Graham Linehan, and the film maker Alex Cox, because we think a new exception is necessary. You can help by signing our petition or, if you make parodies and are affected by copyright, you can tell the consultation team.  

Here’s the letter that we are sending to the Baroness Wilcox in support of a new parody exception.


“Dear Lady Wilcox,

We are writing to you regarding intellectual property policy, and particularly the reforms recommended in Professor Hargreaves’ review ‘Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth’ and being taken forward through the ongoing consultation.

We applaud the Government’s desire to see Professor Hargreaves’ proposals into policy and welcome the opportunity to respond to the current consultation. Our particular interest is in seeing that the new exception to copyright for parody is taken forward into law. We believe this reform has enormous potential to improve our ability to campaign responsibly on issues of significant public interest.

It is not the role of copyright to restrict legitimate public debate. Yet copyright already limits our ability to hold organisations to account through our campaigning.

One of the most important ways that organisations and businesses communicate their brand, advertise their products, or sell their goods is through works that are subject to copyright. Organisations and institutions associate feelings and values with themselves or their products through images, text and sounds. These become strands of our cultural fabric. They shape and inform public opinion about an organisation, its business or policy and, where relevant, its products.

There are often important alternative stories about those organisations and businesses that need telling. Where there is a legitimate public interest in doing so, it should be acceptable to use the copyrighted works to point out hypocrisy, objectionable corporate behaviour or other issues relating to their social footprint.

Exceptions for commentary and criticism already exist. But these do not go far enough. Parodies are one of the most effective means to campaign, and should be a vital tool for civil society and campaigning organisations. Copyright without a parody exception amounts to an over-regulation of our activity. It too often inhibits our work, resulting in a chilling effect including a fear of developing effective parody campaigns and, when we do, ‘take downs’ of our content.

This is why we support moves to establish an exception for parody within copyright law. Such an exception would provide greater legal certainty, especially important for smaller organisations, and make it clear that copyright cannot be used as a weapon to restrict legitimate criticism.

We hope that following the consultation period the Government will press forward with Professor Hargreaves’ recommendations and implement an exception to copyright for parody. We will also be submitting this letter to the consultation team at the Intellectual Property Office.

Yours sincerely,

Jenny Ricks, Head of Campaigns, ActionAid UK
Niall Cooper, National Coordinator, Church Action on Poverty
Ann Feltham, Parliamentary Co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Simon Moss, Co-Founder & Chief Operations Officer, Global Poverty Project
Robin Oakley, Head of Campaigns, Greenpeace UK and EU
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group”


This afternoon I’ll be heading off to a consultation event at the intellectual Property Office (IPO), which will see lots of ‘stakeholders’ – which is a terrible word that basically means organisations or people who care about or are affected by something – discussing proposals for exceptions to copyright related to freedom of expression and access to information. That includes an exception for parody. Obviously we’ll be saying we think a new exception is a really good idea.

There’ll likely be plenty of ‘push back’ – another horrid term often used in policy circles that means people disagreeing with something – from rights holders, who don’t like the idea of an exception for parody. Or any exception, for pretty much anything, as far as I can tell.