This just in, yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter among others posted that Lady Gaga has won an injunction against a parody creation from Mind Candy called Lady Goo Goo. The reason?
“Lady Gaga argued that the character would confuse consumers.” – AWN
There’s a couple of different aspects to this decision but all spell potential trouble for animators or studios so they are well worth being aware of.
Firstly, there’s the issue of confusion with the real Lady Gaga and secondly there’s the issue of parody works and whether or not they are legal. Before you carry on reading though, here’s a video of Lady Goo Goo herself:
Starting with the confusion, Gaga relied on trademark law and its reliance on the famed tests which essentially boil down to the “moron in a hurry” scenario. The court ruled that consumers and fans of Gaga would be susceptible to confusion between Gaga and Goo Goo and thus the latter should not be permitted .
Anyone with half a brain would conclude that this is a clear admission from Gaga that her fans are clearly idiots but as Mike Masnick at Techdirt put it:
Unfortunately, Lady Gaga doesn’t have a sense of humor about the situation and it appears that neither do the UK courts.
Michael Action Smith of Mind Candy puts it fairly bluntly:
“It’s pretty obvious that kids will be able to tell the difference between the two characters.” I can certainly tell the difference, but Lady Gaga and the courts couldn’t
The shame is that millions of kids fell in love with Lady Goo Goo’s debut single on YouTube and now won’t be able to enjoy her musical exploits. It was all done in the name of fun and we would have thought that Lady Gaga could have seen the humor behind this parody.
This leads us nicely into the second aspect of the ruling, which is that parody works are not strictly legal in the UK, where the lawsuit was filed.
The importance of this aspect? Well, in the US, parody works are considered legally distinct from the original material and as a result, do not require prior approval from the copyright holder. This is not the case in the UK, which has no laws regarding parody works. The result is that Gaga was legally able to sue over a parody featuring an animated baby and some Eurotrash music.
Why is this a concern for animators and studios? Because animation has relied on parody and making fun of things since almost the day it was invented! Imagine if all the classic Warner Bros. shorts couldn’t have parodied the political and entertainment figures of the day? Imagine if the Simpsons couldn’t send up films like Citizen Cane? Imagine if Weird Al Yankovic couldn’t release a video to go with his parody of a song? (Side note, Al had is own run-in with Lady Gaga but because he’s in the US, he could release his single anyway).
Our ability to create would be seriously hindered wouldn’t it? The world would be a much more serious place in the absence of all this comedy and poking of fun.
Animation has delighted in being one of the prime candidates when it comes to sources of parody. Nevertheless, this lawsuit simply proves that you have to be on your toes when it comes to this kind of thing, because as bad of a control freak as it makes Lady Gaga look (and all the increased attention the lawsuit has garnered as a result), it ultimately forces a studio to write off an investment it made and to swallow the costs of the project with no hope of getting them back.
Small studios and animators cannot be expected to be effective economic units if they face the prospects of lawsuits like this. There is no reason why Lady Goo Goo had to be yanked in the UK, the decision hurts everyone, including Gaga herself.