Judge Dean Pregerson, of the Central District Court of California (Los Angeles) issued this opinion a few weeks ago on the fair use issues in Carol Burnett's suit against Fox over the Family Guy episode where they send up Burnett's Charwoman character by having her work as the janitor in an XXX shop. The opinion is a great one for fair use and parody, but perhaps the most interesting piece was at the end, when the judge comments on "old media" vs. "new media":
Carol Burnett is an icon in American culture as is her character the "Charwoman." The Court has no doubt that she is, and rightly so, well known, respected, and beloved by a large segment of the American public based upon her persona and her outstandingly successful entertainment career. The Court fully appreciates how distasteful and offensive the segment is to Ms. Burnett. Debasing the "Charwoman" and also making Ms. Burnett's parents participants in a crude joke is understandably disheartening to Ms. Burnett, her family, and many fans.
To some extent this dispute is indicative of just how far the "new media" has come from the "old media." The old media harkens back to days when crude jokes and insensitive, often mean spirited, programing was perhaps found in live night club performances but not present on television. In the new media, any self imposed restraint essentially has been eliminated. Public figures, such as Ms. Burnett, are frequent targets of parodies and cruel innuendo. As Ms. Burnett well knows, it takes far more creative talent to create a character such as the "Charwoman" than to use such characters in a crude parody. Perhaps Ms. Burnett can take some solace in that fact.
However, the law, as it must in an open society, provides broad protection for defendant's segment. Therefore, the Court grant's defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint without leave to amend.
I don't know that I agree with the judge about original characters taking more creative talent than a good parody of a character, but I'm glad he recognized that such parodies were as protected under the First Amendment any other other form of speech and expression.