Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. Case Brief

Why is the case important?

2 Live Crew (Defendant) argued that its parody of Roy Orbison’s song, “Oh, Pretty Woman,†was a fair use within the meaning of the Copyright Act of 1976. The appellate court, however, concluded the parody was presumptively unfair because of its commercial nature.

Facts of the case

“Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. sued 2 Live Crew and their record company, claiming that 2 Live Crew’s song “”Pretty Woman”” infringed Acuff-Rose’s copyright in Roy Orbison’s “”Oh, Pretty Woman.”” The District Court granted summary judgment for 2 Live Crew, holding that its song was a parody that made fair use of the original song. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that the commercial nature of the parody rendered it presumptively unfair.”


For fair use purposes, is the commercial purpose of a work the decisive element of the inquiry into the purpose and character of the work?


(Souter, J.) No. For fair use purposes, the commercial purpose of a work is only one element of the inquiry into the purpose and character of the work. The other elements to be considered are the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work. In this case, it was error for the court of appeals to conclude that the commercial nature of 2 Live Crew’s (Defendant) parody rendered it presumptively unfair. No such evidentiary presumption exists for either the first factor (the character and purpose of the use) or the fourth factor (market harm). The court also erred in holding that 2 Live Crew (Defendant) had copied excessively from the Orbison original, considering the satiric purpose of their version. Reversed and remanded to evaluate the amount taken from the original, its transformative elements, and potential for market harm.


The Court found that it was error for the court below to have concluded that the commercial nature of petitioners’ parody had rendered it presumptively unfair. The Court held that no such evidentiary presumption was available to address either § 107(1) , the character and purpose of the use, or § 107(4) , market harm, in determining whether tranformative use, such as parody, was a fair one. The Court held that a parody’s commercial character, which tended to weigh against a finding of fair use, was only one element that should be weighed in a fair use enquiry. Therefore, the court below was found to have given insufficient consideration to the nature of the parody under the fair use factors as set forth in § 107 in weighing the degree of copying.

  • Case Brief: 1994
  • Petitioner: Campbell
  • Respondent: Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 510 US 569 (1994)
Argued: Nov 9, 1993
Decided: Mar 7, 1994