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Twitter, a Royal baby and the parody exception

James Nurton

Controversy over a parody Pippa Middleton Twitter account comes as the UK prepares to change copyright law ... to encourage parodies

Lawyers for Pippa Middleton have requested that a parody Twitter account be deleted, according to reports in The Independent newspaper and TNT magazine. Middleton is famous for her starring role in the recent Royal Wedding: she is the sister of Kate, Duchess of Cornwall, who is expecting a baby this month that will be third in line to the British throne.

CelebrateCapitalising on her popularity, last Christmas Pippa published a book of party-planning tips called Celebrate (right). Critics complained that some of the tips were simple and trite, and it was not long before the @Pippatips Twitter account (below) was set up, parodying her advice (sample tweet: “dressing up in nice clothes is a stylish way to look great at a party”). Its authors have now written a topical book, When One is Expecting: A Posh Person’s Guide to Pregnancy and Parenting, published by Icon Books.

The parties involved have not given details, so it’s not clear on what basis the action is being brought. But it is ironic that it comes just as the UK government is consulting on widening copyright exceptions, including by introducing a specific exception for “caricature, parody or pastiche”.

Announcing this proposed exception last year, the government said: “The consultation document suggested that the UK may be at a disadvantage on the world stage and that British broadcasters, production companies, and creators who produce commercially valuable parody works may be inhibited from making the most of their potential.”

This always seemed a slightly surprising assertion to me. There is a healthy tradition of caricature and parody in the UK, from eighteenth-century writers such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope to the wonderful Craig Brown in Private Eye today. It’s not immediately obvious that copyright law has impeded people from creating parodies, or even making money from them.

Pippa tipsNot surprisingly, parody accounts are particularly popular on Twitter. For example, the amusing @Queen_UK has more than twice as many followers as the official @BritishMonarchy. And earlier today a tweet by the Prime Minister inadvertently linked to a spoof account for one of his own cabinet ministers (David Cameron tweet links to parody Duncan Smith account).

If the legislation is passed as proposed, it will surely become almost impossible to take copyright action against obvious parodies (just putting the word “parody” in your Twitter description should get you out of jail) unless there is wholesale copying (the exception allows “any fair dealing”). Of course, under certain circumstances, there might be the opportunity to take action for trade mark infringement and/or passing off, and the UK also has a robust defamation regime – but you would think these options will be limited for obvious parodies.

The @Pippatips Twitter feed has been inactive since June 14, having previously been updated at least daily. It’s not clear why it's gone quiet, but maybe Middleton’s lawyers (Harbottle & Lewis) deliberately took whatever action they did before the law changes.


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