There’s a long literary tradition of writing satire, parody, and spoofs. But, unfortunately, there’s also a modern literary tradition in which arguments about rights infringements are often settled in the court systems. If you’re thinking of self-publishing a spoof, parody, or satire, Self-Publishing Relief suggests you consider these FAQs that could help you stay out of trouble.
What’s the difference between parodies, satires, and spoofs? Does it matter?
Satire is a type of storytelling that uses exaggeration, irony, and/or humor to expose often less-than-savory elements about the subject matter (from people, to organizations, to cultural values). Parody, however, imitates style. A writer can parody another writer’s voice, the speech of a politician, or song lyrics. Spoof tends to be a more generic term that usually points to elements of both parody and satire (and a spoof might be more good-natured than a satire or parody).
What’s the risk of publishing parody, satire, and spoofs?
There are two primary gray areas that can lead a writer into trouble when self-publishing spoofs, parodies, or satires.
The first involves defamation of character—essentially, when a writer claims certain elements as fact but cannot prove them to be true, and those “facts” do real damage. If your satire seems to be making serious (non-comedic) assertions that you can’t prove are true, you might run into trouble. Satire is fiction, of course. But writers have been sued for creating characters based on real people.
The second involves copyright infringement. There’s a fine line between an homage or parody that imitates and outright copying. The point of parody is to reflect and comment on the original work using new ideas, not to copycat the original ideas.
What are our rights for writing and publishing satire, parody, or spoofs?
Making fun of someone or something seems to be generally protected by law. Lying about them is not. As long as you’re not lying, you should be within your rights.
As for copyright infringement, as long as you’re not stealing characters, storylines, or worlds outright in order to sell more books, you might be in the safe zone. For example: Your young magician Parry Hotter might fight dragons with a wand that turns beasts into drooling, raving admirers, but only so that the narrative can point out how the Harry Potter series has us all entranced to the point of mindless adoration (or something like that).
What are examples of famous books that are satires, parodies, or spoofs?
Some famous literary satires and parodies include:
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Candide by Voltaire
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher
What about writers of fan fiction?
Fan fiction is fiction that uses characters from existing books to create new works. Most fan fiction is serious about recreating the world of its antecedents—as opposed to making a poignant commentary on that world—so it rarely crosses into the world of parody or satire. The thinking goes that as long as a writer isn’t trying to sell their fan fiction, they’re in the clear. Learn more about copyright and fan fiction lawsuits here.
One Last Caveat About Satires, Spoofs, And Parodies
Even if you cross every T, dot every I, and quibble about every comma—and you’re 100% sure you’re within your rights to publish a given spoof, satire, or parody—that still might not fully protect you from being sued. So tread carefully and be prepared.
And a final, important reminder…We are not attorneys, and the information in this article may not apply to your unique situation. Always consult a lawyer about your rights.
Question: What’s your favorite spoof, parody, or satire?