I’m an active member of a slam poet association and I sometimes take the verse of past poets to create something new and fresh that feels more current or more me. It feels fresh to me, but I’m worried I might be putting myself at risk in terms of copyright infringement, especially if include my poems in our group’s pamphlets at events. What, if any, protection do I have from fair use?
Fair use, the right to use unlicensed material in some circumstances, is an important right for any creator to know about. I’d recommend that you start by looking at the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry, which provides all sorts of useful information about what your protections are. Once you’ve done that, pay particular attention to Principle One because it elaborates particularly on Parody and Satire. Under fair use, a poet can adapt a poem or a portion of a poem from another creator if it offers a critique, presents a genuine homage, or ridicules a social, cultural or political trend. Don’t forget, fair use is all about context, not rigid rules, so you’ll be asking yourself if you are doing one of those things in every poem. There are two more important questions to ask yourself: Do you provide your sources somehow in the programs for your performances? Does your imitation of source material add significant value to the original? If you answered both of these favorably, it appears you are in good shape.