I found a YouTube video of a public domain opera, and I want to use the sound portion in a musical parody. I will only use parts of it, alter it dramatically, and wish to claim "Fair Use." Is it indeed, Fair Use under these circumstances? Do I have any legal obligation to the creator of the sound piece? He used public domain arrangements, and placed it on YouTube. I would be happy to give him credit for his work though. Thank you!


2 Answers 2


The opera may be in the public domain, but unless the performance is from several decades ago, which I assume is not the case, the performance is not in the public domain. The video therefore has copyright protection of its own. The use to which you want to put the video does not sound like fair use to me, although as the other answer notes that's impossible to determine without knowing more than you've told us, but the fact that the composition being performed is in the public domain is not a particularly important consideration in the analysis.

  • Under US copyright law, "several decades ago" would be more like "95 years from date of publication" for the copyright duration of a work made for hire.
    – Upnorth
    Sep 3, 2019 at 15:35
  • @Upnorth we don't know whether this is a work made for hire, though, do we? It could be an amateur performance. And that 95-year rule went into effect less than 95 years ago, so if we want to know whether a sound recording of a musical performance is actually in the public domain we'd have to look at the state of copyright law at the time the recording was made and/or at the time it was published.
    – phoog
    Sep 3, 2019 at 15:46
  • True, "we don't know", but I was attempting to counteract the insinuation that "assuming it was not from several decades ago" is particularly relevant to the question of establishing its public domain status.
    – Upnorth
    Sep 4, 2019 at 21:00
  • 1
    @Upnorth If it's a performance that is not several decades old, it's not public domain. If it's a performance from 1923 or earlier, then I suppose it is. If it's several decades old, but less than 95 years, then we'd need to do a little more analysis to answer the question. I therefore assumed that it is not several decades old because then we don't need to do the analysis. If the assumption is incorrect, the OP can say so and then we can go into the analysis.
    – phoog
    Sep 4, 2019 at 21:09

The standard answer is, there is a concept of Fair Use under which one might legally copy stuff. But it is impossible to definitively determine whether a particular use would be found to constitute fair use. In lieu of permission, you can (1) take your chances or (2) hire an attorney to give you a detailed analysis based on the specifics of the case and then take your chances. Parody is one of the primary reasons for the Fair Use exception; but a number of Bad Lip Reading musical parodies have disappeared. Option (2) is the safest choice.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .