Fifty Shades of Copyright Infringement

In light of our recent class discussions about copyright and the creative commons, I thought it might be somewhat relevant and more than a little amusing to bring up the copyright battle that ensued over the Fifty Shades of Grey porn parody. Now our two combatants in this legal arena of boundless stupidity are Universal Studios, which currently holds the film rights to E.L James’s bafflingly popular series, and Smash the porn studio that had attempted to make Fifty Shades of Grey: A XXX Adaptation. On the surface, this would appear to be your standard copyright case, with Universal arguing that fair use is not in effect, as Smash  had stated that the porn adaptation would attempt to be “as true to the original as possible,” and was thus not a true parody. However, this case becomes a little more interesting when you hear Smash’s response. Instead of claiming that they’re film was in fact a parody, Smash went on to argue that they didn’t require fair use because Fifty Shades’s origins as a Twilight fan fiction made it public domain.

This case might have been very interesting for the legal ramifications that it could have had on the fan fiction community and copyright law in general, but sadly Smash and Universal had an out of court settlement that resulted in Smash cancelling production on their adaptation. While this settlement may have sadly robbed us of an official ruling on the legality of rule 34, you can’t deny that the case itself did raise some relevant questions about the way in which artists are constantly attempting to borrow from one another’s work in this new digital frontier.

Smash’s entire argument hinges on the fact that they’re violation of copyright is legal because the original product that they’re copying was itself a blatant rip off of another writer’s work, which does make one wonder at what point can someone claim that a work is so unoriginal that even the author doesn’t have a personal claim to the product. Historically speaking, artists have always borrowed from one another. That’s why certain pieces of either art, literature, or music can so easily be linked to specific points of time and location. What differentiated these similar pieces was that each artist would often put their own unique spin on a similar topic, writers from the lost generation often wrote about similar themes, but you could always identify a Fitzgerald story from a Stein one. These little differences are the reason I can’t support Smash’s claim, because the studio isn’t bringing anything new to the story, but were just using a different medium to tell it.

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