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Makers of Grease spoof seek confirmation that their show is fair use

By | Published on Tuesday 13 August 2019

Vape The Musical

A group of comedians behind a ‘Grease’ spoof last week went to court in New York seeking judicial confirmation that their show is ‘fair use’, after the publishers of the original musical issued a cease and desist on copyright grounds.

The spoof show is called ‘Vape: The Musical’ and, its creators say, “uses millennial slang, popular culture, a modern lens, and exaggeration to comment upon the plot, structure, issues and themes of ‘Grease’ and to criticise its misogynistic and sexist elements”.

Since its acquisition of theatre publisher Samuel French last year, Concord now reps the rights in ‘Grease’ and, according to the lawsuit, it sent the cease and desist letter after learning about a planned short run of ‘Vape: The Musical’ in New York. The letter also went to the theatre due to host the short run, which seemingly then cancelled the show.

The company behind the spoof, Sketchworks, insists that its musical does not infringe on the copyright in ‘Grease’ because of the fair use principle. Copyright law always includes certain exceptions where a copyright owner’s control over their work does not apply. In some countries there is a specific list of exceptions, while US law provides this much looser concept of fair use. In many jurisdictions, including America, parody is usually covered by these exceptions.

Sketchworks says that it explained all this to Concord’s legal reps, but that its arguments were, in the main, rebuffed. For now at least. Keen to still stage the spoof in New York at some point soon, the company requests from the court “a declaratory judgment of fair use so that it may perform and otherwise exploit ‘Vape’ without further delay”.

The lawsuit actually names the creators of ‘Grease’ – so Jim Jacobs and the estate of the late Warren Casey – as the defendants. Neither they nor Concord have as yet commented.