Saturday Night Live’s Roast of Hugo Chavez Pulled from Replay Over Legal Issues?



I was just asked to comment by a national news organization about the Saturday Night Live skit featuring Justin Timberlake as Elton John making fun of deceased Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, taking place at his funeral memorial.  It seems SNL has censured the skit where it could, including entirely cutting it from the replay on hulu. But why?

chavez2Copyright Issues? No.

It’s not a copyright issue because of using Elton John’s song as some have speculated, as it is “fair use” as parody.  Under Federal Copyright law, the owner of a copyright, Elton John and his representatives in this instance, has certain exclusive rights to the use of their copyrighted works, including the right to make derivative works, such as parodies – works that are based upon or use elements of the original, but incorporate new elements or changes.

The key exception, which applies here, is the right of others, such as Saturday Night Live to use part of the work for purposes of criticism, commentary, news reporting, all considered a “fair use.”  The rights to parody or satirize the original work has been ruled as a public benefit and the parody, generally, does not compete with the original, as it appeals to a different audience. I truly don’t think it was Elton John’s people who had it pulled.  Nor do I see anything wrong with any of the content- photos included.

Political Correctness / Offensiveness to Some? Yes.

The issue, although not public, was SNL deemed it “politically incorrect” as critics, particularly Latin Americans, found it offensive and “too soon” as Chavez did a lot to turn the country around and died of Cancer less than a week before.  I think SNL, or more likely NBC, just had a second thought about whether or not it might offend or incite, especially since his death was not even a week old and it was fairly aggressive humor- political correctness.

About Chavez

Hugo Chavez, a former army paratroop commander, ran Venezuela for more than 14 years as a virtual one-man show, gradually placing all state institutions under his personal control. In June 2011, a pale Chavez addressed the nation by television from Cuba admitted doctors had operated on him twice to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvis. After thinking he was cured and many more operations and grave illness, he died last week. Chavez’s illness even prevented him from taking the oath of office after he was re-elected to a new term on Oct. 7.

After his death, much of Venezuela was shaken.  “He was the best this country had,” said Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old clerk who works in the Industry Ministry, her face covered in tears, “I adore him. I hope the country calms down and continues the work that he left us, continues in unity and the progress continues.”

It is easy to disagree, and even be offended by his politics as an American, but it is a sensitive time for those that knew him as providing far more freedoms and rights than prior Venezuelan governments.  Even the song recognizes that.

chavez1NBC Owns Rights to Skit

It is worth adding that they have challenged others’ distribution of the video, as they own the copyright to it and can control how and where it gets used on the internet and elsewhere.  It is much like NASCAR’s attempts to squash footage of the crash that injured so many at the end of the Daytona 500- censorship by right to control public relations issues.  However, it is all over and the more you try and put Pandora back on the box, the more viral it gets in this new age of internet posting.


I found the episode- start to finish- to be one of the best in a very long time. Was the parody of a leader’s funeral, flowers included in bad taste?  Probably, but I have seen far worse.  The difference now is that we are living in a global world with a global economy, where anything on television or even “real life” can be distributed worldwide in an instant.  Gone are the days where something came and went, and if you missed, you missed it.  NBC has tried to “erase” this piece of history, but the worldwide web will only make that far more challenging.

In case you missed it, it is here (for now, although it is cut off as well)-

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