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Carol Burnett Vs. Family Guy


Go, Carol, go!

Carol Burnett has filed a $2 million copyright infringement lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, claiming her cleaning woman character was portrayed on the animated series Family Guy. The episode shows her Charwoman character as a porno-shop maid. Full story and a video clip of the offending scene at The Smoking Gun.

  • Yes, because $deity forbid anyone should do a parody of her character.

    I’m sorry, but this is absolute tripe. Carol Burnett is only doing this for publicity. Family Guy may not be liked by all, but the show is nothing but parody! You don’t see the owners of the A-Team or all the celebrities that are made fun of there complain!

    (Disclaimer: I used to like Family Guy a few years back. I haven’t seen the show regularly in years, so I have no idea how it’s turned out lately.)

  • She won’t get anything. It’s protected under parody.

  • I haven’t been able to watch FAMILY GUY in a couple of years, just because I haven’t had any access to it over here in my dorm. I enjoy the writing on FAMILY GUY (and despise the animation), and there have been many times that the show has parodied characters in that fashion. Carol Burnett seems like the first person to take extreme offense at this sort of tribute (unless there’s another word for it). She probably wanted to know how she was being made fun of beforehand.

    I can’t give enough opinion because I haven’t seen this episode, nor have I ever seen a re-run of the Carol Burnett show. So I don’t know just how strong the evidence is.

  • Bryan T.

    Yeah, I hate that show, but clearly what they’re doing is parody. Or at least, non-stop pop culture references that pass as parodies. I haven’t seen the episode but I can’t imagine there is any legal merit to this claim – I’m surprised Burnett would bother to waste money bringing it to court.

  • Fortyseven

    She and Patrick Swayze now have something in common to swap stories about when they meet up at the Home for the Formerly Popular.

  • I have to agree with Dave. Regardless of how you feel about Family Guy, it seems like Carol Burnett is taking issue with a simple parody.

    Meanwhile, cases such as this one crop up and I just have to wonder where our priorities are…

    Nude Picasso? Oh noes!

  • Michael

    It’s already out on DVD, so the suit’s request to “edit” the episode is moot. Sorry Carol, the toothpaste is out of the tube. I’m certain Fox appreciates your kicking sales up a notch for Family Guy DVD Volume 4.

  • There’s no parody if there’s no joke. It’s just a reference you laugh at to prove you recognize it. If she were mopping up in a place in a porn shop they do actually need mops, it’d have been a joke, but it wasn’t even an unfunny joke, there’s no joke there.

  • At least, that’s all I can tell from the clip. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s usually Family Guy’s M.O.

  • While I do enjoy its lightning comedy, I actually agree with Jerry’s headline “Go, Carol, Go!” And after having BEEN “declined”…how DIS-repectful is that!? Respect people’s wishes, duh!

  • As everyone has already said, this is silly. They didnt even poke fun at her. She’s just there, in the show, for like 4 seconds.

    Family Guy has taken far more pointed jabs at other celebrities whom haven’t cared at all.

  • Where’s the joke? Where’s the parody? I hope she wins!

  • Sullivan

    Carol Burnett made a lot of money parodying other people and their work. Turnabout. Fair play.

    Cartooning involves poking fun at well known people. Old cartoons, including Mickey, had the top celebs of the day interacting with the toons.

  • tom

    I hope she wins. I hate Family Dad or whatever.

  • Er…she was there for about 2 seconds. What’s the big deal? O_o

  • I don’t know about the legalities of it, but this show’s reliance on nonstop pop-culture references is a sign of the laziness of their writers, so now it’s biting them in the ass.

  • The joke is that the character, no longer popular, has to stoop to working in a porn shop.

    Did you really need that explained?

    I personally think the Family Guy is a stain (witness the unfunny joke being debated here), and I love Carol Burnett, but she has no case.

  • Carol Burnett’s parodies were always funny and good-natured. This so-called “parody” in Family Guy is neither funny, since there really isn’t any substantial point to her being there other than the typical Family Guy aimless pop culture reference, nor is it good-natured, instead being just a nasty and lewd insinuation as to the meaning behind Burnett’s ear tug. I don’t know whether “The Carol Burnett Show” had ever been parodied in MAD Magazine back in the 1970’s, but I’m sure Carol has enough of a sense of humour to appreciate something along that line, but I can see her point in objecting to this rather pointless, witless and unsavoury reference in Family Guy. I’d have to side with her on this one.

  • If you take the time to read the background – and not merely state your opinion – it’s clear that this was a mean-spirited act of retaliation because Carol originally declined the use of her material.

    If you are ever talented and/or fortunate enough to be in a position like a Carol Burnett – or even a Smiley Burnette – I guarantee that the shoe will be on the other foot and you, too, will work diligently to protect your assets.

    As for Family Guy (Simpsons-lite), maybe they should stop borrowing and try writing actual comedy. Merely saying words like “vagina” on TV is one-dimensional (“Ha, ha, they said ‘vagina!’ Ha, ha. I think I’ll buy the box set.”). And basing a show on pop culture references is moronic. It’s like hearing Beatnik jokes or Beatle jokes – or Smiley Burnette jokes – 50 years later. Years from now, once the cultural context has evaporated, people won’t be able to watch the show without tons of footnotes to cross-reference. Typical contemporary short-term thinking!

    GO, CAROL, GO!!!

  • Sevenfeet

    Parody is well protected under existing copyright law and there is a mountain of case law supporting it. And the definition of parody is broadly defined…everything from humor like this example to political commentary, like Alice Randall’s book, “The Wind Done Gone”. Does anybody remember when Hormel Corp. sued Jim Henson’s company for naming one of the pigs “Spa’am” in the movie “Muppet Treasure Island”? That lasted all of 10 minutes in court, and that’s how long this will last.

  • gimmeabreak

    Everyone seems to be letting their personal feelings for the show Family Guy cloud the simple logic of this case. “I hate Family Guy so I’m supporting Carol” despite the fact that she has absolutely no case whatsoever, in any way shape or form. Maybe she is desperate, maybe she was personally offended to the point of losing control of her common sense, maybe she just wants to make a point, who knows. Bottom line is, Family Guy has an established history of parody, which is what they do, parody. That’s the show. They take things relevant at some point in our cultural heritage, and they spin them, make them humorous by tying them into a place or storyline they wouldn’t normally belong. That’s the humor of the show. Like it or not, which is a nonissue here, it’s parody and it’s protected speech.

    Family Guy parodied Mickey Mouse, and even Walt Disney as a pervert demanding Minney Mouse (as his artistic model) strip so he could draw her nude. Disney, known for their obsession over copyright, didn’t sue. That parody was much more “in bad taste” than this one, and Disney still didn’t sue because they knew they had no case. It’s too bad if Carol was offended because this isn’t quite her brand of humor, but to go to such ridiculous lengths to make a point is in as bad taste as the joke. A parody done in bad taste is a parody nonetheless, and is protected, period.

    There is no case. Plain and simple.

  • Adam

    I hate Family Guy so I’m supporting Carol. Is there a link to where I can donate money towards her legal expenses?

  • Robolizard

    Pfft. It is a parody, and to sue over it is absurd. Whether or not its funny is not the case. Every case against FG has some comment against the show. Wether or not its mean spirited or you hate the show, it doesn’t matter, its another parody following a long line of parodies since the show premiered in the year 2000. Carol Burnett is a great and legendary actress, but this is downright silly.

    People love Family Guy, and Seth MacFarlane got to speak at Harvard’s Commencement because of it… Animation people seem to like it much less. Whatever people’s opinions of it, Burnett’s case IS unfounded…

  • As much as I’d like to support Carol Burnett on this issue, I don’t believe she has much of a chance. I think this just strengthens Family Guy’s enormous ego trip, and there’s bound to be more bad Carol Burnett bashing in a future episodes. I am a bit torn though… I really hate how artists have to watch out what their doing in order to keep themselves from facing lawsuits, if there’s a parody, it should be looked as such. People bash on eachother all the time in Hollywood (some worse than others) but I think Carol took this too personally, or even made it worse by filing this lawsuit, it might just end up making her look bad, and i hate seeing her go through that! She’s really awesome. It’s just like if one artist took another artists drawing and said what was wrong with it and then made a big stink about what they said on their own blog or wherever. Some things can be taken in passing… There’s alot worse that can happen.

  • Paul

    I guess I’m not surprised that Carol Burnett is upset about being portrayed as a jizz mopper in a porno store, or that the characters speculate on what she “tugs on” to say goodnight to her father. I think if the shoe were on the other foot, a lot of people who are adamant about her having no case would be looking into legal recourse too.

    Given her refusal to let the show use her theme song, I’m not surprised that she feels this particular sequence is a retaliatory action on the part of the show. Whether there is a case or not will be up to lawyers and judges to decide, although it’s interesting to see animation fans bring their extensive legal experience to bear on the topic…

  • tom

    I actually hope she heralds a whole new era in people suing this joke-stealing, mean-spirited POS show.

  • Jorge Garrido

    I hate Family Gay (HA!) as much as anyone, but parody is and should be protected. Maybe Carol should take her revenge by making a new character: a post modern pot smoking lazy Family Guy writer, not by trying to circumvent free speech,

  • Okay, let’s decide this one on laughs.

    Carol Burnett’s humor has cracked me up for years. On the other hand, “Family Guy” has well — y’know.

    When I can’t decide, I go with the funny person. Carol wins hands down.

  • This isn’t the same as the Gene Kelly thing at all.
    It (just barely) qualifies as parody. There’s a joke there.
    It’s not funny, but it’s definitely a joke.

    I want to see Family Guy sued for copyright infringement as much as the next guy, but not for something this tame.

  • I hate Family Guy so I’m supporting Carol.

  • Dino

    Of course, she has no case. Parody is protected, and thank god. Anyone jumping on this bandwagon– apparently QUIVERING WITH HATRED for Family Guy– should be smacked upside. A huge chunk of the animation industry makes a living off of parody.

    As far as Family Guy goes; so it’s cheap animation of ugly characters, it’s crass, and it hangs most of its jokes on non sequiturs and the leavings of pop culture. It’s got piles of jokes and sharp voicework, and on a Sunday night that hits the spot for me.

    But there’s clearly no changing the mind of zealots. Just be happy that we live in a time when cartoons are on prime time network TV instead of relegated to the kiddie ghettos of Saturday morning, basic cable, and direct-to-video releases about princesses.

  • Michael

    When Carol wins (laugh!), come and get my Family Guy DVD Volume 4.

    What good is a lawsuit except to -publicize- the skit’s very existence? Hello new fans!

    The only people cleaning up (with the mop and bucket) are Fox Home Video and Amazon.

  • chuckfiala

    Carol Burnett is funny. Family Guy is mean-spirited, and as far as I can tell, this clip contains no true parody element, and no humor. I think the nasty comment about her parents is probably what put her over the edge. They also placed her actual name in the clip.

    Go, Carol, Go!

  • Stan

    Good for you Carol. Do it to them.

  • Paul

    So I guess if you sympathize with Carol’s position, you automatically hate Family Guy? Cuz those are the only two choices, right? Sheesh…

    Dino’s right about one thing – there IS no changing the mind of zealots, regardless of which side of the argument the zealot is on…

  • Andreas

    Even when parody is sited in copyright infringement cases, there are times when the courts have decided with the copyright holder. Just because you cite parody, doesn’t mean it qualifies in the legal sense. One such case where parody wasn’t enough to win is where Starbucks sued Kieron Dwyer over his “Consumer Whore” logo. While he was allowed to keep “using” his logo, the settlement pretty much crippled any usage. FG probably will win, but that is up to the courts to decide.

  • Love ya, Carol! Stick it to ’em (those unfunny, badly-drawn b*strds), and good luck!

  • Mr. Woah

    I find it absolutely rediculous that most people here don’t seem to care about the actual issue at hand, but instead seem to think that just because they feel Family Guy is unfunny, it deserves to be sued.

  • Jeff

    What useless crap.

    Did Family Guy sue when South Park did two hilarious episodes slapping them around like bitches? (Manatees pushing reference balls, anybody?)


    Here – on a website that uses clips and images to make commentary, surrounded by people who use their creative energies for a living – commentary should be sacred.

  • Micah

    Sigh… If one read the background in the lawsuit it would be clear that Family Guy and it’s writers were being mean spirited…
    But then if I believed everything I read I might think crackers and Doritos were good for me.
    I’m getting the disc out and watching that episode again, maybe twice.
    Carol can take it on the chin like a good little girl or she can go fume in her own sand-box.
    Now if Family Guy would just stop spending money on catalog music and rights to others creations and spend it on improving the shows look then we’d have something.
    Go, Carol. Go away.

  • Micah

    -ps. Watching the episode again is my cosmic “to spite you” to Carol. Out there, maybe she’ll feel a tremor in the schwartz.

  • Corrado (Anthony)

    I’d be more sympathetic to FG if the show wasn’t a colossial turd right now. When SP brilliantly satirized it last year, FG hasn’t recovered since. And watching the past few weeks of new FG episodes, I’ve only smiled a few times. Not like the old before-it-got-cancelled FG which was a delight.

  • There’s a few people here who seem to think that Family Guy’s in the wrong simply because the joke’s not funny. Parody doesn’t have to be funny to be parody just as presidents don’t have to be good presidents to be called presidents. Crap or not-crap asside, it’s still parody. Mean spirited however, it may be, so by labelling it defamation perhaps she has a case. Knowing diddly squat about Carol Burnett, someone watching this could be forgiven for thinking the father joke was in reference to an actual event or controversy from Carol’s past. How that could possibly effect her quality of life or career I can’t imagine.

  • Rich Drees

    My guess is that they had the sequence already written and perhaps even in some stage of production when the FOX lawyers reached out to inquire about the rights to the music. When they were declined, McFarland and crew decided to create a variation of the music that envokes Burnett’s without being it.

  • lurkingfear

    Carol Burnett is represented as a porn shop maid, standing by inflatable sex dolls that look remarkably like her.
    Her theme song is played and she is referred to by name. But it’s the remark about ‘what she pulled to say goodnight to her dad’ that led to the lawsuit. This is character assassination, not parody, and she DOES have a case.

  • Corey K.

    “Sigh… If one read the background in the lawsuit it would be clear that Family Guy and it’s writers were being mean spirited…”

    I *have* read it, and what’s clear is that they THINK “Family Guy” and its writers were being mean spirited. What’s also clear is that they were ALWAYS planning to make a Carol Burnett reference in an episode entitled “Peterotica.” What are the odds they were planning a *different* Carol Burnett-related joke in an episode about porn and then changed their minds? Probably not much.

    Besides which, the joke, whether or not you find it funny, is not actually particularly mean-spirited. That Carol Burnett is working in a porn shop is just one of FG’s random pop-culture references meant to be funny in and of itself. It is said you know it’s a “clean” porn shop BECAUSE Carol Burnett is working there, which actually seems kinda sweet and respectful, as parody goes. And Quagmire’s tagline is perfectly in character for Quagmire, and seems intended to make fun of the character, not Burnett herself.

    I think FG has indeed made a lot of mean-spirited jokes in the past (I take particular issue with the attitude towards the character of Meg, who was originally an intelligent, independent and sympathetic character but, when the show was revived, the – presumably mostly new? – writers continually disparaged as being “useless” and left out of most of the storylines… way to trample on the hearts of any awkyward young teenage girls who may have identified and looked up to Meg, guys), but this aint’ one of them.

    I LOVE Carol Burnett, but this case is ludicrious.

  • I both teach law and practice law, and I practice what I teach — CLIENT CONTROL!

    If Carol was my client, and she came to me with this case, I would refuse to file it.

    I’d be very disappointed in any of my students if they went on to file something so patently frivolous. If I represented Family Guy, I would send a Rule 11 warning to her attorneys, along with a Rule 68 offer of judgment for $0. (Well, ok, as a matter of practice, I think rule 68 offers should be $2500 or more).

    Read Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994). It is required reading in my my entertainment law class and my copyrights class. It appears that neither Ms. Burnett nor her lawyers have read the case. That pesky First Amendment… always getting in the way of people who hate freedom.

  • Micah

    Cory K.: Well put. The joke is not particularly inflammatory. Furthermore: if Carrol is going to get her ear lobe in a twist then Rene Zelweger needs to get her lawyer just like Alissa Milano did in that early episode of FG (“Of all the… cheap shot!”) So either Rene Zelweger actually eats ants or Carol is going nuts.

    Marc J. Randazza: Fantastic ref and comments. Some of the more enlightening. Thanks.

  • Whenever Family Guy gets brought up here the comments turn into something approximating the animation equivalent of FreeRepublic.com.


  • Paul

    So Marc, is it your considered legal opinion that Carol Burnett hates freedom? Your argument sounded pretty logical until you made that Evel Knievel – worthy leap.


  • Mike Fontanelli

    Family Guy is the worst show on television – ugly, derivative, mean-spirited, crass, witless, artless and smug. At least The Carol Burnett Show was occassionally funny. Frivolous lawsuit or not, I hope she takes them to the cleaners.

  • Phil

    From what I’ve seen Gimmerabreak say, most of these comments are mostly “OH NO FAMILY GUY SUCKS SO CAROL SHOULD WIN”, what crap. I do like Family Guy, but I wouldn’t support it to win or lose, parody is parody, it’s not like they stole an idea and called it their own.

  • Sal

    Paul, you might want to work on your reading comprehension skills.


  • Paul

    Sal, I’d suggest the same to you. Here’s a passage to get you started:

    “It appears that neither Ms. Burnett nor her lawyers have read the case. That pesky First Amendment… always getting in the way of people who hate freedom.”

    But thanks for weighing in – your post on this topic added SO much depth and nuance to the conversation.

  • Robert Igoe

    Funny how Carol didn’t seem to mind the scene in FG episode “Don’t Make Me Over” where Peter is heaping compliments on her. And I seem to remember Carol herself dishing out some parodies on her own show (but I’m SURE she went out of her way to get permission and to financially compensate the original artist!). Bottom line is that Carol Burnett is the quintessential celebrity who can dish it out but can’t take it.

  • Anonymous

    No one sees the irony in this. Carol is doing a voice for an animated feature that’s being put out by 20th Century Fox.

  • not a fan

    About time someone sues them for that trash they call cartoons.

  • More publicity for Family Guy!


  • Paul,

    No, my point was not that Carol Burnett particularly “hates freedom.” I was making a satirical jab at the current idiot we have in the White House. I guess it was too obscure of a reference to be obvious.

    That being said, I do think that Carol Burnett is someone who wishes that we were less free. This is not the first time she has attempted to do damage to our cherished First Amendment rights. Therefore, the joke/jab was fair – she “hates freedom.”

  • This has nothing to do with Carol, but the show itself is written by a bunch of joke thieves, I’ve watched many episodes and seen two of my jokes in them, not one liners but actual premises and then two or three punch lines. Surely i’m not the only fairly unknown comedian they;ve stolen from. The show is also a rip off of the Simpsons. As Bill hicks once said, we live in an age where talent goes nowhere and hacks and thieves proliferate the planet.