Read this before using copyrighted music in campaign videos
by desmoinesdem, Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 10:44:21 PM EDT
Mr. desmoinesdem alerted me to a recent court ruling in Don Henley's copyright suit against Chuck DeVore for two web videos DeVore made during his U.S. Senate campaign in California. Ben Sheffner has been covering the lawsuit at the Copyrights and Campaigns blog.
Henley sued over web videos that set new lyrics to two of his songs. DeVore changed "The Boys of Summer" to "The Hope of November" in a video that mocked Barack Obama, and he changed "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" to "All She Wants to Do Is Tax" in a video that mocked Senator Barbara Boxer.
DeVore claimed fair use on the grounds that the songs he put in his videos were parodies. The problem for DeVore was that legally, "a parody comments on the work itself; a satire uses the work to comment on something else." DeVore wasn't rewriting lyrics like Weird Al Yankovic used to do to make fun of musicians. He was scoring points against Obama and Boxer. If you haven't paid for the rights to use a song, you have to meet a higher legal standard for satire than for parody.
You can download Judge James Selna's ruling here. Excerpt:
Even assuming that "parody-of-the-author" is a legitimate transformative purpose, the Defendants' songs do not satisfy the fair use analysis, as discussed below. "Tax" does not target Henley at all, and "November," which only implicitly targets Henley, appropriates too much from "Summer" in relation to its slight jab at Henley and risks market substitution for "Summer" or its derivatives.
DeVore had claimed he was mocking Henley as part of the liberal Hollywood elite, but Henley argued in one legal brief that he has given money to some Republican candidates, including John McCain. (Who knew?)
Selna agreed with the plaintiffs' claim that by using the Henley songs in their videos, DeVore's campaign supplanted the market for derivatives of the Henley songs, because "licensees and advertisers do not like to use songs that are already associated with a particular product or cause. [...] This injury is the very essence of market substitution."
While Selna granted the plaintiffs summary judgment on the issue of copyright infringement, he did not issue a finding on whether the infringement was willful. (If so, Henley would have a stronger claim for monetary damages.) Sheffner comments, "I assume there will be a jury trial on the issue of willfulness and damages, unless the parties are able to reach a resolution."
Selna rejected the plaintiffs' claim that DeVore violated the Lanham Act by giving people the wrong impression that Henley had endorsed DeVore's Senate campaign. Sheffner explained in this post why he thought Henley would (and should) lose that portion of the lawsuit.
Other candidates and campaign staffers should review this case before they decide to use copyrighted songs in web ads.