Yes, even politicians are subject to copyright law. California politician Chuck DeVore posted two videos parodying songs of the classic rock band Eagles as part of his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. But the former Eagles frontman Don Henley and his fellow songwriters did not find it funny and sued DeVore for copyright infringement.
On the parties’ summary judgment motions, the district court judge held in part that the campaign videos did not constitute parody and thus violated the musician’s copyrights.
Am Law Daily reports that the parties settled for undisclosed terms, and that Henley and the other musicians received an apology, in which DeVore acknowledged that the
ruling in this case confirms that political candidates, regardless of affiliation, should seek appropriate license authority before they use copyrighted works.
In his exclusive interview with Copyrights & Campaigns, Henley celebrates his “moral victory” and says his motivation for the suit was “simply a matter of my copyrights being violated by music being used in a way it was never intended to be used.”
Although parody may be claimed as a fair use of a copyrighted work, the parody defense in copyright infringement cases is narrow. Its commercial character is only one factor to weigh in determining whether a use is a fair use; it does not, by itself, render the use unfair. Importantly, a parody must make a critical comment on the work it copied from. That an allegedly infringing work is or is not in bad taste is irrelevant to whether it constitutes a parody for fair use purposes; it is a question of law, not a matter of public majority opinion.
On copyright infringement, see California Business Litigation, chap 7 (Cal CEB 2002). For general information about intellectual property licensing, see Intellectual Property in Business Transactions, chap 5 (Cal CEB 2008). Check out the OnLAW Business Law Library to get both of these books and more.
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