A US judge on Thursday (May 12) ruled that Vape: The Musical, which mocks the blockbuster 1978 film Grease, amounted to fair use and did not infringe the rights of owners of the Grease copyright.
Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the Manhattan federal court said Sketchworks Industrial Strength Comedy, the Atlanta troupe that created Vape, transformed Grease by updating it for the #MeToo era and exposing its misogynistic tendencies.
Written in 1971, Grease ran on Broadway from 1972 to 1980, while the film starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
Grease depicts the ups-and-downs of relationships between Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson (Dumbrowski in the musical) and among their friends, as they navigate senior year at fictional Rydell High School in the late 1950s.
Vape had the same characters and a similar story.
But it had many differences, including by using millennial slang, highlighting how the teenage characters randomly burst into song and dance and "looked at least 30", changing Greased Lightnin' to Prius Lightning and faulting the "happy ending" where Sandy underwent a radical makeover to win Danny's heart.
In a 22-page decision, Swain said that by keeping the Grease characters and plot arc while changing the script and lyrics, Vape "comments on how misogynistic tendencies have both evolved since Grease was developed and remain the same".
She distinguished the case from a March 2021 appeals court decision that Andy Warhol violated federal copyright law by drawing on a photograph of Prince for a series of images of the rock star, because the images were not transformative.
"Here, in contrast, Vape, when considered holistically, constitutes a parody of Grease... and thus constitutes fair use," Swain wrote.
Sketchworks sued after the defendants, representing Grease co-authors Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, sent a cease-and-desist letter, forcing the August 2019 cancellation of performances of Vape in Manhattan.
A lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sketchworks plans to stage Vape in Atlanta and other cities soon. "We stood up for what we believed-what we knew-was right," co-owner Brian Troxell said in a statement. "The right to parody is too important not to fight for." – Reuters