It’s just a joke: Defining and defending (musical) parody

Paul Jewell, Flinders University
Jennie Louise, Adelaide University


Australia has recently amended copyright laws in order to exempt and protect parodies, so that, as the Hon. Chris Ellison, the then Minster for Justice told the Senate, ‘Australia’s fine tradition of poking fun at itself and others will not be unnecessarily restricted’. It is predicted that there will be legal debates about the definition of parody. But if the law, as the Minister contends, reflects Australian values, then there is a precursor question. Is there anything wrong with parody, such that it should be restricted? In our efforts to define parody, we discover and develop a moral defence of parody. Parody is the imitation of an artistic work, sometimes for the sake of ridicule, or perhaps as a vehicle to make a criticism or comment. It is the appropriation of another’s original work, and therefore, prima facie, exploits the originator. Parody is the unauthorised use of intellectual property, with both similarity to and difference from other misappropriations such as piracy, plagiarism and forgery. Nevertheless, we argue that unlike piracy, plagiarism and forgery, which are inherently immoral, parody is not. On the contrary, parody makes a positive contribution to culture and even to the original artists whose work is parodied.

Paul Jewell <> is a member of the Ethics Centre of South Australia. He teaches ethics in Disability and Community Inclusion at Flinders University and he is a musician. Jennie Louise is also a member of the Ethics Centre of South Australia. She teaches ethics in the Philosophy Department at Adelaide University and she is a musician.

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