Question about song riffs

So I remember reading in the past that MST3K did song riffs royalty-free because they were on cable and no one knew who they were, at least in the beginning. I’m currently watching the Atlantic Rim episode from The Gauntlet season on Netflix, and at one point, Jonah and the bots do a song parody riff of “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles. I’m just curious: did they have to pay royalties on that riff, or does this fall under fair use?


The (U.S.) laws about parody should protect them. Parody is protected in copyright law and doesn’t require permission. Movie riffing on the other hand doesn’t count as parody because it uses the complete work of the original movie.

Weird Al always asked permission to do his parodies out of professional courtesy, but he wasn’t required to do so.


If I’m remembering correctly about “Yoda” aka “Lola,” he initially couldn’t get permission from Davies to record it. But there was nothing to stop him from performing it live as much as he wished. I wonder if the laws have changed a lot since then. (Since this was well before the internet came along.)

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They were singing bits of Beauty and the Beast in The Loves of Hercules and everyone knows how litigious Disney is. I would think that, if there was a way to do it, they’d be all over preventing that kind of thing. They’ve even riffed in the past about how much Disney protects its intellectual property.


I don’t know about the Yoda history. Protections for parody go all the way to the constitution. However, that’s not the same as being immune to lawsuit. You can be sued for anything by anyone. They might not win, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t afford the lawsuit defense. That’s part of what makes public domain such a minefield.


lol. Yep. Even by lawyer standards, patent and copyright law was hugely complicated even before the internet came along. Many people had to abandon or never engage in a legit defense because they didn’t have $10K an hour or whatever for an attorney. I actually know an artist who can’t get back the rights to some of their old work because of this. It’s just not worth the huge investment for a very small return on things which don’t mean much to them personally anymore.

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