In an opinion Thursday, Judge Swain granted judgement on the pleadings to the makers of the musical Vape, declaring that under the “fair use” doctrine, Vape does not infringe on the copyright in the classic theatrical work Grease.
Vape holds itself out as a parody of Grease. The copyright holders argued that rather than commenting on Grease itself, Vape merely ripped off elements of Grease in order to critique “society writ large.” Judge Swain disagreed:
Defendants overlook the manner in which Vape mocks various specific elements of Grease, including absurdities in the plot line . . . .
Perhaps most crucially, Vape criticizes Grease’s “happy ending,” in which Sandy decides to change herself and become a greaser in order to be in a relationship with Danny. Vape incorporates sarcastic, new dialogue into the script to comment on Sandy’s decision. Sandy tells Frenchy, “I want Danny back. Frenchy, I’m going to change everything about myself for him,” and Frenchy replies sarcastically, “That’s so great to hear. You definitely won’t regret this later . . . [s]aid no one ever . . . . Let’s go to my house for this totally unnecessary makeover.” After her makeover, Sandy arrives at the last-day-of-school celebration in her greaser outfit and explains that she has experienced a “sexual awakening while also abandoning [her] identity and values.”
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[T]his is not a case in which the authors of Vape have taken elements from Grease “for the sake of convenience, and then changed the lyrics [and script] to satirize a subject having nothing to do with the original [work].” Nor is it merely a derivative update of Grease. To the contrary, Vape relies on allusion to Grease to convey its central message about Grease’s misogynistic story line.