The Worst Defense

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury... Your Honor... distinguished colleagues of the deceased... I might be just a simple copyright lawyer, and my client might be just a simple defendant accused of murdering a prostitute in cold blood, and I might have long ago forgotten anything I ever knew about criminal law... and the evidence against my client might be quite damning, indeed, and the prosecution’s case seemingly airtight and a guilty verdict all but inevitable... but I urge you to keep your minds and hearts open just a little longer and consider that, at least from an intellectual property law perspective, my client has done nothing wrong.

The State has presented its proofs, and I would be a fool to argue to you now that the prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that my client did in fact kill a twenty-seven-year-old lady of the night. Indeed, if I recall correctly, the first item of documentary evidence presented at this trial was my client’s handwritten confession to the crime, prepared by him even before he had been apprehended by the authorities, so there can be no question of it having been coerced. No, my client wrote out his confession in triplicate and then handed it to the desk sergeant on duty at the police station when he turned himself in. So I won’t waste your time and my own suggesting that my client is not a murderer who deserves to be put to death himself or at the very least serve a prison sentence of life without parole. But where I do take issue with the prosecution’s case—and where I want to focus your attention now, before you begin your deliberations—is the characterization of my client as a copycat killer. For it is bad enough to be accused of being a killer; it is that much worse, however, to be slandered as a person who would infringe on another’s exclusive intellectual property rights in the process of committing premeditated murder.

One of the witnesses for the prosecution, a criminologist with an undeniably impressive résumé, testified, and quite articulately no less, that the murder of a prostitute of which my client is accused took place not long after a rash of prostitute murders, some seventeen in all, each apparently committed by the same person—not my client—had come to an end. This credible criminologist further testified that my client obviously sought to imitate the methods of the original prostitute killer, although my client was not entirely successful in this attempt. My client did come close enough, however, to be deemed a “copycat.”

But this offhand characterization is unkind. My client might be a lot of things, all of them quite terrible, but he is not a copycat. To the contrary, my client is a parodist. His murder of a prostitute was at all times intended to be a commentary on the original prostitute murders—one that at once pays homage to the original killings and also makes fun of them. Parody, plain and simple. And a fair use, therefore, of the intellectual property of the original serial killer of prostitutes—still, by the by, at large.

That my client, by no means not guilty of a horrific act of violence, is nonetheless not guilty of being a thief of intellectual property is no trivial point. This is why I stand before you now, urging you to take into consideration the following when you decide my client’s fate, which will undoubtedly include both a lethal injection and electrocution: In this country, parody enjoys particular protection. Indeed, in 1993, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a parody of one song, in the form of another song, can be a fair use of the first song, even if the second song is recorded and sold for the purpose of making money. And this seminal Supreme Court case involved two songs about prostitutes, as it happens, making that decision, the law of the land, that much more applicable to this case. And the fact that the high court ruled that a parody can be fair use even if perpetrated for commercial gain is especially relevant here in light of the fact that my client robbed the prostitute before he killed her, and then again after.

When my client garroted the deceased with a steel guitar string—a G string, mind you—he was not just paying tribute to the prior murders of seventeen other prostitutes by garroting with piano wire, he was making a satirical statement, although he has asked me not to reveal what statement specifically he was making. He would prefer if you came to your own conclusions in that regard, being that he believes art is as much a product of the imagination of the audience as it is the intention of the artist. Nonetheless, what he does not wish to be coy about is his adamancy that his murder—his work—was not merely copycat work but rather transformative work that in no way diminishes the ability of the original perpetrator of prostitute murders to continue his own work, inasmuch as my client murdered but a single prostitute and there remain many prostitutes still alive and available to be murdered. Also, please bear in mind that guitar strings, even steel ones, are much less sturdy than piano wires, meaning that my client had to expend significantly more effort to murder a prostitute than the killer my client is accused of copying did, for what that’s worth.

Thank you.

Matthew David Brozik wrote this and many other short humor pieces, which have been published in print and online by The New Yorker, Adult Swim, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grin & Tonic, The Big Jewel, and no one.

Read more humor here. Or read some fiction here.