Scène à Faire from an Italian Restaurant

By Geoffrey Gerber
Billy Joel played St. Louis in concert last week. As I dropped one of my kids off at school, the DJ on that station played a Weird Al Yankovic parody called "It's Still Billy Joel to Me." I thought nothing of it until the DJ stated he was playing a bootleg copy because Billy Joel refused to give his permission for the parody. Who needs permission for parody?

According to the world's leading treatise on legal issues -- Wikipedia -- parody is an allowed fair use and the artist does not need to get permission. "However, as a personal rule, and as a means of maintaining good relationships within the music community, Yankovic has always requested permission from the original artist before recording his parodies."

So without permission, although Yankovic has apparently performed "It's Still Billy Joel to Me" in concert, he has not recorded the song for release. If that is the case, who is getting the royalty when a DJ plays the "bootleg" performance?

And . . .  because "you can't copyright a name," there are other "It's Still Billy Joel to Me," parodies out there.

It is a little unclear to me how much Weird Al's personal code of conduct requiring permission is driven by his desire to maintain good relationships and how much it is driven by record company concerns. Some of the problems in getting permission over the years appear to have involved differences of opinion between artists and their labels.

When it is not a produced song on one of his albums, Weird Al doesn't shy away from throwing a punch or two. When Eminem refused permission for Weird Al to parody the Eminem music video "Lose Yourself" after previously giving permission for an audio parody called "Couch Potato, " Weird Al pieced together an "interview" he did with Eminem in which he explored the rapper's views on the First Amendment. This is probably more interesting than the song parody itself.


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