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Two gentlemen, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, created the television-hit series South Park. Trey and Matt started their journey in two completely separate ways that eventually brought them together.. In this paper I am going to give a brief biography of both men, provide a brief history about South Park, provide information on copyright and fair use, talk about different copyright infringement cases against South Park and talk about some of the animosity that exists towards the creators of South Park.
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Randolph Severn Parker III also known as Trey Parker, was born on October 19, 1969 in Conifer, Colorado. Parker is the younger of two children of Randy II and Sharon Parker. Growing up Parker attended West Jefferson Junior High and Evergreen High School. It was there that he learned that he had a funny side to him because he was voted the class clown. According to treyparker.info/biography, “in high school he made an album with pal David Goodman titled “Immature: A Collection of Love Ballads for the 80’s Man” which showcased his humor as well as his musical talent” (Shpadoinkle, 2011). After graduation Parker attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He transfered to the University of Colorado at Boulder where he majored in music but also “took classes to learn more about the film process”(Shpadoinkle, 2011). It was here at the University of Colorado where he met Matt Stone (Shpadoinkle, 2011; Comedy Central, 2012).
Unfortunately Parker was kicked out of school because he was missing too many classes due to a film he began shooting over spring break in 1993 called “Alfred Packer, the Musical”. In 1996 the musical changed names to “Cannibal! The Musical” due to the desires of Troma, a company that picked the film up for distribution. Parker created many animated shorts before he moved to LA to pursue a career with South Park, which helped him get to where he is today After being expelled Parker decided to move to Los Angeles, California to pursue his career with the show South Park where he and Stone are now working on the 16th season of the show. At this time Parker still resided in Los Angeles (Shpadoinkle, 2011; Comedy Central, 2012).
Matthew Richard Stone, was born on May 26, 1971 in Houston, Texas. Stone and his family moved to a town in Colorado called Littleton. It was here in Littleton where he attended Heritage High School. After high school Stone attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he majored in math. Math wasn’t his only interest; he also had an interest in filmmaking, which is how he met Parker. Stone and Parker hit it off right away and put their minds together to create a series of crudely animated cartoons. After Stone completed college he moved to Venice, California to pursue his career with the show South Park (Fandango, 2012; Starpulse, 2012; Comedy Central, 2012).
Parker and Stone immediately hit if off in college because of their love of film. While there they created two animated shorts together called American History which won a student academy award and The Spirit of Christmas: Frosty vs. Jesus which is where some of the characters from South Park originated. Parker and Stone contacted Comedy Central about creating a show based off of the animated characters they created together in college. Comedy Central decided to pick the show South Park up. South Park made its debut on August 13, 1997 and even though it did not do well with the viewers, Comedy Central decided to air six episodes.
The town of South Park is based off of a mountain town of Fairplay, Colorado close to where Stone lived during his childhood. In the summer of 1999 Parker and Stone released a feature length film called South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which was a musical. One of the songs in the musical was called Blame Canada, which was nominated for best song at the Academy Awards (Fandango, 2012; Starpulse, 2012; Comedy Central, 2012).
In 2000, Comedy Central negotiated a new contract that allowed South Park to air three more seasons. Then again in 2003 there was a negotiation for a 9th and possible 10th season depending on ratings. This process just kept repeating every year until 2012 where South Park was given their 16th season contract. They got this far because the show grew to be the highest rated original series in the network’s history (Shpadoinkle, 2011; Comedy Central, 2012).
“South Park is a comedy-animated series created by Stone and Parker. Distributed by and airing on Comedy Central and its current owner, Viacom, since 1997, South Park follows the surreal adventures of four young boys who live in the small town of South Park, Colorado. South Park satirizes many aspects of American culture and current events, and challenges deep-set convictions and taboos, usually using parody and black humor” (Jingle Bell Lyrics, 2020). “South Park got its start in 1991 when Parker and Stone, then film students at the University of Colorado, created their animated short called Jesus vs. Frosty (also known as The Spirit of Christmas). The crudely made film featured prototypical versions of the kids of South Park, including a character resembling Cartman but called “Kenny”, bringing a murderous snowman to life with a magic hat. The baby Jesus then saves the day by decapitating the monster with a halo” (Jingle Bell Lyrics, 2020). “The characters and backgrounds of South Park are made to appear deliberately crude, as if they are simply made of cut out pieces of paper. Paper cutouts were indeed used in the original pilot Parker/Stone animation and in the very first Comedy Central episode, but every subsequent episode aired on TV has been produced by computer animation that provides the same crude look” (Jingle Bell Lyrics, 2020).
“Now in its 16th season, “South Park” continues to surprise even its most devoted fans each and every week. Known for its unbelievably immediate and ruthless responses to world events, South Park’s new episodes bring up-to-the-minute news and pop culture icons (including Al Gore, J. Lo, Oprah, Sir Elton John, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and P. Diddy) to the town of South Park for social commentary and good old-fashioned ridicule” (Comedy Central, 2012).
Since I am going to be talking about two different copyright cases against the creators of South Park, I thought it would be a good idea to give a little bit of background information about the current copyright and fair use laws.
“Copyright is contained in Article One, Section 8 of the Unites States Constitution. Our current copyright law is called the Copyright Act of 1976. Even though it was written in 1976 the law did not go into effect until January 1, 1978” (Bieber Notes Copyright Basics, 2012).
“Copyright provides exclusive rights to copyright owners for a limited period of time. Our current copyright law provides ownership for works by individuals for as long as the person lives and then 70 years after their passing” (Bieber Notes Copyright Basics, 2012). The copyright law also provides ownership for works created in a work for hire situation, which is when something is created by an employee of a company for their employer. This ownership is for 95 years after publication or 120 years after the creation (Bieber Notes Copyright Basics, 2012).
Not everything can be can be copyrighted! Some types of things that cannot be copyrighted are: works not original works of authorship or not fixed in a tangible medium of expression, ideas, facts, titles, names, phrases, slogans, and works in public domain (Bieber Notes Copyright Basics, 2012). One thing to always remember about copyright is that “copyright is a property right, meaning that it can be willed, sold or transferred to someone else just like a car” (Bieber Notes Copyright Basics, 2012). One final thing to remember about copyright is that, you don’t have to register your work but, if you do it will protect you in case there is an infringement lawsuit brought against you or if you need to bring one on against someone else (Bieber Notes Copyright Basics, 2012).
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“Fair Use is contained in Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976” (Bieber Notes Fair Use, 2012). The definition states “The fair use of a copyrighted work…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use) scholarship or research is not an infringement on copyright” (Bieber Notes Fair Use, 2012). One thing that must always be remembered is that even if a use may fall into one of these six categories there are other criteria that must be considered as well. The four things that must be considered are “the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantially of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole and the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work” (Bieber Notes Fair Use, 2012). When looking at a copyright infringement case, copyright and fair use are the biggest topics that they look at.
Stone and Parker have been in trouble many times when it comes to copyright infringement. Their most recent case has to do with a character call the Lollipop King. Exavier Wardlaw claims that “they stole his ideas from his creation, the Lollipop Forest” (Orfanides, 2012). On October 15, 2012 when Wardlaw made this claim, TMZ reported that his show was “ripped off” by the South Park guys and that his “wholesome family show” was completely ruined and that neither Parker nor Stone asked for his permission to use the character (Orfanides, 2012). TMZ reported that, “according to the suit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, Exavier is suing for copyright infringement and is demanding that South Park remove all traces of the “Lollipop King” from the Imagination land trilogy (Orfanides, 2012). Wardlaw is taking this matter very seriously. The creators of South Park should know that this is not a laughing matter. This case is still currently in process and the trial hasn’t happened yet so I can’t say what the outcome is yet.
The Lollipop King lawsuit isn’t the only lawsuit against Parker and Stone recently. This next case involves the episode called Canada On Strike that aired on Comedy Central in 2008. According to eef.org, the episode deals with strike, viral videos, and internet fame. “In the episode, the nation of Canada goes on strike, demanding a share of the internet money they believe is being generated by viral videos and other online content” (Brownmark Films v. Comedy Partners, 2012). The boys – Stan, Kyle, Carman, and Butters – come up with an idea to create a viral video to see if they could raise enough “internet money” to get the Canadians to stop striking.
“The boys create a video, What What (In The Butt), (WWITB) in which Butters sings a paean to anal sex” (Brownmark Films v. Comedy Partners, 2012). The video was taken from an actual video that Brownmark Films owns the copyright to of an adult male “singing and dancing in tight pants”(Brownmark Films v. Comedy Partners, 2012). “The South Park version recreates a large portion of the original version, using the same angles, framing, dance moves and visual elements” (Brownmark Films v. Comedy Partners, 2012). The biggest difference is that the video is starring Butters who is nine years old and at different points in the video is dressed up in 3 different costumes.
Brownmark Films, the copyright right holder, is suing South Park Digital Studio (SPDS) for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976. Brownmark Films did in fact “reference both videos but did not attach either work to the complaint” (Brownmark Films v. Comedy Partners, 2012). SPDS responded back right away claiming that the South Park version of the video was clearly fair use under section 107. SPDS attached the works of both videos and moved for dismissal. Brownmark Films’ response was that the court could not consider this to be fair use. After Brownmark Films and SPDS went back and forth a couple of times the district court finally came to a ruling.
“The district court concluded that “one only needs to take a fleeting glance at the South Park episode” to determine that its use of the WWITB video is meant “to lampoon the recent craze in our society of watching video clips on the internet…of rather low artistic sophistication and quality” – in other words fair use” (Brownmark Films v. Comedy Partners, 2012). The court granted SPDS’s motion to dismiss based on the fair use affirmative defense. The ruling was affirmed. Things like this have happened to Parker and Stone multiple times and so far they have been able to get out of trouble. They just take their chances and deal with whatever comes their way.
There is also a lot of hatred toward the South Park creators, Parker and Stone. The hatred started because “in the 200th episode of South Park, which was broadcast in April 2010, a proposal to bring the Prophet Mohamed to town is met with short shrift at a community meeting. “Are you nuts?” one character says. “If Mohamed appears in South Park we get bombed!” “We don’t know that,” another replies. “Maybe enough time has passed that now it’s OK to show Mohamed”(The Independent, 2012). South Park is a show that is very cruel and doesn’t care about what some people are going to think or who is going to take offence to what they say or show.
“In February, Zachary Adam Chesser, 21, who admitted to posting online threats, was sentenced to 25 years in prison” (CNN, 2011). Chesser who converted over to Muslim, “encouraged violent jihadists to attack the South Park writers for an episode that depicted the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit” (CNN, 2011). “The warning was posted on the New York-based website Revolution Muslim. In an article that suggested that Parker and Stone would “probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show”, a writer calling himself Abu Talhah al-Amrikee” (The Independent, 2012). “Theo van Gogh, who was a Dutch filmmaker, was stabbed to death on a street in Amsterdam, Netherlands, by an Islamic extremist in 2004. He became the target of radical Muslims after releasing a short film about oppression of Islamic women in Europe (CNN, 2011). Chesser took this attack one step further and going as far as posting messages online with the addresses of where Parker and Stone lived and urged the readers to “pay them a visit” (CNN, 2011).
Not only was Chesser charged but Jesse Curtis Morton who is a resident of Brooklyn, New York, is the second person charged in the South Park Case. Morton also was not Muslim but, decided to convert to Islam. Morton is one of the co-founders of the ” Revolution Muslim’s 2008″, which is where Chesser posted these threatening messages (CNN, 2011). This ultimately is how Morton and Chesser met each other and become friends and grew hatred toward Parker and Stone.
In conclusion, after doing this paper I have learned so much more about the show South Park as well as the creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. There are many things, like the two most recent court cases including the “What What (In The Butt)” video, as well as the Lollipop King case that I didn’t know even existed. I love watching the show but I truly had no clue that the creators had this much trouble every time they aired a show. The two cases are not the only cases that were brought against the creators. There are other cases as well that I did not mention in my paper. I think that the creators should probable ask different people before using them in their show, or in the Muslim case, maybe they should of asked the commander of Islam if they could make a show about the Prophet Mohammed. Copyright is a big issue, not just with South Park, but with a bunch of television shows out there. Remember, if you don’t know what you are signing or you don’t understand something in your contract, or even if you want to use something and you are not sure if you can, hire a layer!
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