Songs on Trial: 12 Landmark Music Copyright Cases

We look back at historic rulings from "Surfin' U.S.A." to "Blurred Lines"

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2 Live Crew vs. Roy Orbison (1994)
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty, Hulton Archive/Getty8/12

2 Live Crew vs. Roy Orbison (1994)

"Oh, Pretty Woman," by Roy Orbison (1964) vs. "Pretty Woman," by 2 Live Crew (1989)

The Case: When their album As Nasty as They Wanna Be was met with accusations of obscenity, 2 Live Crew produced a sanitized version with the tongue-in-cheek title As Clean as They Wanna Be. This disc contained a humorous take on Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." Called simply "Pretty Woman," the Crew describes the titular woman in less-than-glowing terms as they rap over a sample of the original 1964 tune. Crew leader Luther Campbell sought clearance from the song's publisher, Acuff-Rose, but the company was not amused and refused permission. Undeterred, Campbell went ahead and released the song anyway.

The Verdict: The lighthearted 2 Live Crew song spawned a vicious legal battle that traveled through the judiciary system all the way to the Supreme Court. In March 1994, Campbell and the rest of the band were cleared of any wrongdoing once the justices ruled that "Pretty Woman" was a parody, and thus qualified for fair use.

Why It Matters: By expanding the definition of fair use, the Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. ruling served as an iron-clad defense for future artists wishing to express themselves through parody. 

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