Back when I was having my Trib-based conversation with David Benzion, he mentioned a web ad that was released by the Texas GOP to attack Bill White in anticipation of his jump to the Governor’s race. That ad featured a song by The Platters. Apparently, the state GOP hasn’t gotten the message that using an artist’s copyrighted song for unauthorized political purposes isn’t such a good idea. But they’re about to find out.
Now, attorneys for the Platters founding member Herb Reed are considering their options. “Herb would never agree to let his music be used in a political way,” said Reed’s manager, Fred Balboni.
The Internet ad, titled “Bill White: Too Liberal for Texas,” went live on the Republican Party of Texas’ YouTube account on Dec. 2. When asked whether his party had received the required permission from the copyright holders of the performance and the original composition, RPT Communications Director Bryan Preston said no licenses were required because the ad was “covered under fair use and political parody.” Legal precedent, however, suggests he’s wrong, especially in light of a recent high-profile defeat for Republicans.
In 2008, Jackson Browne sued Sen. John McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the Ohio Republican Party for copyright violation and falsely implied endorsement after they used his 1977 track “Running on Empty” without his permission in an anti-Obama attack ad. The U.S. District Court in California threw out McCain’s motion to dismiss using a public interest defense, forcing the Republicans to settle out of court in July 2009. As part of the agreement, they pledged “in future election campaigns to respect and uphold the rights of artists and to obtain permissions and/or licenses for copyrighted works where appropriate.” Browne’s attorney Larry Iser said, “The law is very clear that the parody must be a parody of the song itself.” Since the latest ad is attacking White and not the Platters, he called the Texas GOP’s claim that the ad is protected free speech “nonsense.”
This really isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. There are plenty of examples of campaigns, mostly Republican ones, getting in trouble for doing this. I guess some people need to learn the hard way.