Charwomen and butthead astronomers

In one corner, the Fox network and its animated show Family Guy . In the other, comedienne and national treasure Carol Burnett. Let the battle commence:

The actress says Fox and its "Family Guy" show paid her back for refusing access to her music and other copyrighted materials by lampooning her in an episode of the animated TV comedy, and now she wants them to pay for the indignity.

In a suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Burnett and her Whacko production company seek more than $2 million for alleged copyright infringement and other claims.

In July 2005, "Family Guy" producers were refused permission to use Burnett's well-known theme music from her long-running former CBS TV show in an episode of the animated series titled "Peterotica," according to the suit. That's when they decided to cook up some paybacks, it claims.

"After permission to use Ms. Burnett's theme music was denied, plaintiffs are informed and believe that Fox caused the 'Peterotica' episode to be rewritten to disparage Ms. Burnett, using Ms. Burnett's signature ear tug," the suit states.

Oh, no! Not the signature ear tug! Is nothing sacred?

In fairness to Burnett, her treatment by Family Guy can be fairly characterized as mean-spirited, what with the porn shop setting and the intimation of father-daughter incest and all.

Puts one in mine of the old story about grouchy astronomer/exobiologist Carl Sagan and Apple Computer:

In 1994, Apple Computer began developing the Power Macintosh 7100. They chose the internal code name "Sagan", in honor of the astronomer. Though the project name was strictly internal and never used in public marketing, when Sagan learned of this internal usage, he sued Apple Computer to use a different project name. Though Sagan lost the suit, Apple engineers complied with his demands anyway, renaming the project "Butthead Astronomer". Sagan sued Apple for libel over the new name, claiming that it subjected him to contempt and ridicule. Sagan lost this lawsuit as well.

I never get tired of that story; Sagan had a gas giant of an ego. Setting aside notions of relative sympathy, however, it's hard to see how Burnett wins this case on copyright grounds. Parody has a pretty broad license, and the likelihood of confusion between the Family Guy treatment and Burnett's mothballed routine isn't very great. But this is why we have courts.

Extra reading: the legal distinction between satire and parody. It's more crucial than you might think.

(Seems we just get started and before we cross-post...)

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