March 16, 2009
Ok, the case isn't REALLY Peter Griffin versus a cricket, but it made you look, right? The case is really Bourne Co. v. 20th Century Fox. Bourne is the owner of the copyrights to "When You Wish Upon A Star," the song made famous by Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinnochio. In an episode of The Family Guy (aptly titled "When you wish upon a Weinstein"), Peter Griffin sings a song called "I need a jew." Bourne was nonplussed, and sued for copyright infringement.
Because the facts were largely undisputed, the court decided the case at the summary judgment level. Holding that Fox's use was fair use, the court stated “Defendants have established that their song ‘I Need a Jew’ contains several layers of parody of plaintiff’s copyrighted work ‘When You Wish Upon a Star.'”
According to Fox and “Family Guy” head honcho Seth MacFarlane, also named as a defendant, the song was created as a commentary on the wholesome, “saccharine sweet” lyrics to “When You Wish Upon a Star” and further commented on allegations that Walt Disney was anti-Semitic. In the parody, Peter Griffin sings about “needing a Jew” to help him with his finances to the tune of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which was originally written for “Pinocchio.”
The court agreed with Fox that “I Need a Jew” was a parody protected by fair use because it was a social commentary on the idealism portrayed by the original song in addition to taking a jab at Walt Disney’s alleged anti-Semitism.
“By pairing Peter’s ‘positive,’ though racist, stereotypes of Jewish people with that fairy tale worldview, ‘I Need a Jew’ comments both on the original work’s fantasy of stardust and magic, as well as Peter’s fantasy of the ‘superiority’ of Jews,” wrote the court. “The song can be ‘reasonably perceived’ to be commenting that any categorical view of a race of people is childish and simplistic, just like wishing upon a star.”
Bourne argued that the commentary about Disney was weak and far fetched, because Disney did not actually own the song. However, the court's ruling adhere's to the principle that it is not for courts to determine whether art is "good" or "bad," but rather a court need only find that the defendants have demonstrated that “a parodic character may be reasonably perceived” regardless of the strength or clarity of the joke.
“Although this joke may not be an obvious one, defendants have established sufficient facts for the court to find that one of their intended comments in parodying ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ related to the repudiation of Walt Disney as an anti-Semite and that such a comment may be ‘reasonably perceived,’”
While not a video game case directly, I find this case interesting from the standpoint that it deals with media and audiovisual works. The case is Bourne Co. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. et al., case number 1:07-cv-08580, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.The entire opinion can be downloaded here.