Larry Iser and Greg Gabriel have obtained a settlement on behalf of singer/songwriter David Byrne against former Florida Governor Charlie Crist for his campaign’s creation of a web commercial for Christ’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign that used Byrne’s famous song Road To Nowhere without permission. Securing another victory for artists’ rights, the settlement included a video apology from Crist posted on YouTube.
On May 24, 2010, Messrs. Iser and Gabriel had filed suit on behalf of Byrne, formerly the leader of the celebrated band Talking Heads, against Crist for two counts of copyright infringement based on the unlicensed use of Byrne’s song Road To Nowhere as well as the Talking Heads’ recording of the song. The suit also included a claim for trademark infringement based on the unauthorized use of Byrne’s famous voice in the ad. After more than a year of litigation, each of the claims was settled. The financial terms of the settlement are confidential; however, the defendants issued the following public apology:
“[We] apologize that a portion of David Byrne’s song and the recording of Road to Nowhere was used without permission. [We] do not support or condone any actions taken by anyone involved in the 2010 election campaign for United States Senate that were inconsistent with artists’ rights or the various legal protections afforded to intellectual property.”
In addition, Charlie Crist issued a video apology which was posted on YouTube and can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4k13LmlcUE. Crist’s video apology, which was written by Larry and Greg and has received more than 55,000 views in the two short days it has been available, has received tremendous press coverage worldwide as well as critical acclaim:
In a press release, Byrne issued the following comment:
“I was shocked to discover, while working out our settlement, that the use of songs for political ads is pretty rampant. It turns out I am one of the few artists who has the bucks and cojones to challenge such usage — I’m feeling very manly after my trip to Tampa! Other artists may actually have the anger but not want to take the time and risk the legal bills. I am lucky that I can do that. Anyway, my hope is that by standing up to this practice maybe it can be made to be a less common option, or better yet an option that is never taken in the future.”
Larry commented as well:
“This settlement again confirms that the U.S. Copyright and Trademark laws apply to politicians and their advertising agencies, just like everyone else,” said Iser. “If a politician wants to use a popular song to generate interest and excitement or popular appeal, he or she must obtain a license to use the song. There is no difference between selling cars or toothpaste and selling a political candidate, and the law doesn’t provide a free pass to persons running for office. We are hopeful that given the recent examples of the cases filed by Jackson Browne, Don Henley, and now David Byrne, politicians will obtain all necessary licenses before doing this in the next election cycle.”
This is the second time that KHIKS has taken on the political establishment on behalf of musical artists whose songs have been misappropriated for use in political campaigns. In 2008, Larry and Greg and a team of KHIKS lawyers sued then presidential candidate John McCain and the Republican National Committee on behalf of music legend Jackson Browne. After defeating defendants’ claims that the use of Browne’s music should be free as a “fair use” based on McCain’s so-called “political speech,” the case was settled. In that settlement in 2009, the defendants also apologized and pledged in future campaigns to respect artist’s intellectual property rights and to obtain licenses for copyrighted works for use in political campaigns.
We sincerely hope that based on Browne v. McCain and Byrne v. Crist, the political world now fully appreciates that music can’t be used in audio-visual works, such as commercials for political campaigns, without proper licensing. We’ll find out soon, as the 2012 campaigns are right around the corner!