No Butts about it: South Park wins copyright suit

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South Park

South Park

Mak­ing “What What (In the Butt)” the butt of a joke is fair play, a Wis­con­sin fed­eral judge has ruled.

Via­com and Com­edy Cen­tral were sued in Novem­ber over the 2008 South Park episode Canada On Strike. Brown­mark Films alleged that a scene stole from its copy­righted music video for the viral phe­nom­e­non “What What (In the Butt).”

In “Canada on Strike,” the char­ac­ter But­ters Stotch recon­structs a silly Inter­net video by singer Samwell.

Down­loaded over 41 mil­lion times on YouTube, Samwell’s “What What” video was fea­tured on PerezHilton and VH1’s Best Week Ever.

Re-creating the music video amounted to copy­right infringe­ment, Brown­mark claimed. But Via­com responded that its own ver­sion was a par­ody, and thus was allowed within “fair use” excep­tions to copyright.

In a rare move, the judge affirmed “fair use” at the sum­mary judg­ment phase of the action.

Any­one see­ing the South Park episode will know that the show was try­ing “to lam­poon the recent craze in our soci­ety of watch­ing video clips on the Inter­net that are — to be kind — of rather low artis­tic sophis­ti­ca­tion and qual­ity,” the judge added.

The judge ruled that a clip last­ing under a minute in a 25-minute episode was not very sub­stan­tial and would not hurt the suc­cess of the orig­i­nal video dis­trib­uted by Brownmark.

As well, the judge observed, South Park altered “What What (In the Butt)” con­sid­er­ably by accom­plish­ing “the seem­ingly impos­si­ble — mak­ing the WWITB video even more absurd by replac­ing the African-American male singer with a naive and inno­cent nine-year-old boy dressed in adorable outfits.”

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About Dave Koch

Editor and publisher of the Big Cartoon DataBase, Dave has been involved in cartoons since opening the Cartoon Factory animation art gallery in 1993. You may contact Dave here.

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