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"Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin's laid an egg" -- any copyright or trademark problems, per se, in that now-famous song lyric?

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  • It's theoretically possible someone could come forward and say they hold the copyright for the modified lyrics, proving it with a suitable copyright registration or some other strong evidence. That seems unlikely, but who knows for sure?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 18:54
  • Registration is not necessary. Also, the lyrics are used in Batman, Brave and the Bold, owned by... Warner Brothers.
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 18:58

2 Answers 2

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The original Jingle Bells song was first published as a Thanksgiving Song in 1857 and has lapsed into public domain. The Batman lyrics constitute parody which would further put their singing under fair use. You may sing it as part of your own musical arrangement with little discourse from Warner Bros, the current copyright holders of Batman and related properties OR the original parody lyricist, who has not to my knowledge done anything to protect his copyright claim to the song. You may not sell the version of the Batman version as sung by Mark Hamil in the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode "Christmas with the Joker" without permission of Warner Bros.

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  • It seems there's documentary evidence of the parody lyrics dating back at least to the 1960s, but with no mention of any particular originator (quite likely, school kids having a laugh). Aside from that issue, I'm wondering if the insertion of these lyrics in an original song (with no other mention of Batman and Robin and nothing offensive associated with them) could create any potential problems in relation to the current owners of Batman and Robin. And, if so, what sort of problems might they be?
    – Apmphioxus
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 20:15
  • @Apmphioxus: If it dates to the 60s, then I would tend to guess that it is fairly unlikely that anyone has registered a copyright on it, and spectacularly unlikely that anyone renewed it; both of those actions were required at the time for a copyright to subsist today under US law. Other countries may not have required such formalities, however, and they were subsequently abolished in the US, so this does not apply to newer works.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 6:19
  • @Apmphioxu Likely not as an original song with a sampled tune of a parody of a copyrighted song that mocks would likely be fair use. Consider that Weird Al's musical library includes parodies that mock pop culture such as Spider-man, The Brady Bunch, Star Trek, Star Wars (Specifically Phantom Menace), I Love Lucy, Jeopardy and various others and spans a 60 year career. While Yankovic is known for seeking out original artists permission to parody, that is a courtesy of his so that the artists are "in on the joke" and not a requirement of the law.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 11:48
  • Thanks for these comments
    – Apmphioxus
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 19:32
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Any original work is protected by copyright, though in the case of a parody, only the newly created elements of the work are protected, that is those parts of Smells Like Nirvana that aren't copied from Smells Like Teen Spirit. Th underlying music in the Batman song is not protected by copyright (copyright has lapsed). The lyrics could be, except that we don't know for sure who first composed the lyrics in the 60's. The names Batman, Robin and Joker are not protected by copyright.

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  • Just to add a bit more specificity: suppose the hypothetical song I described in my previous comment got played on radio and the writer received payment for the radio plays. Could this be credible grounds for the owners of Batman and Robin to claim a share of the proceeds?
    – Apmphioxus
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 21:03

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