Celebrities, Copyright, Fame Brief, Intellectual Property, Music

Fame Brief: Weird Al, Fair Use, and the Lady Gaga Saga

On Wednesday, white and nerdy musical genius Weird Al released “Perform This Way,” to his Twitter followers for free download, after Lady Gaga supposedly refused to approve it for inclusion on his upcoming album. The song parodies Gaga’s “Born This Way” and, while certainly no “Another One Rides The Bus” or “Rye or the Kaiser,” appropriately mocks the Gaga marketing machine with such gems as “got my straight jacket today / it’s made of gold lamé / no I’m not crazy, I perform this way.” The whole thing is kind of a meta-parody because “Born This Way” is really a low rent rip-off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and “Vogue.”

Here’s the background story:

Lady Gaga denied Weird Al the right to release his parody of BORN THIS WAY, only the second time in his career that he’s been denied. [Ed. note: The other refusal came from Prince.] But he recorded the track at her request as a part of the approval process… the first time any artist has made that request. She summarily passed without comment. So instead of selling a couple hundred thousand or a million copies… he gave PERFORM THIS WAY away for free to his 2 million followers on Twitter.

Really, Lady Gaga wants to throw down with Weird Al?

Folks, the only people who get away with refusing Weird Al are absolute prophets like Prince and Paul McCartney (parodying “Live and Let Die”). If you’re Coolio, Eminem, Lady Gaga or some other clown, you can’t get all indignant about Al parodying your “masterpieces,” or else you end up looking like a self-righteous asshat. Which is precisely how Lady Gaga looked for a few hours on Wednesday before the internet backlash forced her to pull the Shaggy Defense.

The Great Poodle-haired One took to his blog to explain that despite being assured multiple times that Gaga herself vetoed the song, it was actually her evil manager who masterminded this whole debacle:

Apparently the fact that she didn’t approve it was news to Lady Gaga herself!

Gaga’s manager has now admitted that he never forwarded my parody to Gaga – she had no idea at all. Even though we assumed that Gaga herself was the one making the decision (because, well, that’s what we were TOLD), he apparently made the decision completely on his own, without any input from Gaga.

He’s sorry.

And Gaga loves the song.

If you believe that excuse, you should proceed immediately to Promise Rehab for Celebrity Exhaustion and check yourself in for mercury poisoning.

It’s interesting that Weird Al always seeks the official blessing of artists before parodying songs, even though it would seem that the fair use doctrine protects his work, and he obviously releases songs regardless of whether the artist actually likes it. Apparently Al’s lawyers believe that it’s his commercial use of parodies that may undercut their protection:

Q. You customarily ask artists for permission to parody their songs, but couldn’t you legally release your parodies without their blessing?

A. Truthfully, it is still a gray area. I always feel more comfortable knowing that I’ve got the artist’s blessing on it.

I did some Wikipedia research, and it seems like commercial exploitation of parody songs is no bar to the parody defense. So is Weird Al just being overly cautious? Where my IP lawyers at?

In my opinion, this whole “Gaga Saga” is besides the point. Somewhere in the early 90s, Al lost his way. He started pandering to his D&D Columbine trench coat-wearing fanbase, singing about Yoda and other science-nerd crap, and parodying only forgettable radio hits. Al jumped the shark with “All About the Pentiums,” and since then it’s been mostly downhill except for “eBay.” He was so bummed about the Gaga veto because he needed a single for his upcoming album, but the Weird Al I knew and loved would NEVER have relied on some lukewarm tune to make or break him. He would have been in the studio with his accordion, writing about cheese.

On behalf of all his fans, I say: Come back, Weird Al. Come back to Cold Mountain.

(hidden for your protection)

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