Of Campaigns and Copyrights

February 13, 2012

In 2010, Eric Goldman noted copyright claims against political campaigns appear to be on the rise.  He cites (among others):

  • Robin Carnahan: See 2010 WL 3805284 for complaint and for links to related pleadings.
  • Charlie Crist in 2010.  See Gov. Crist’s answer at 2011 WL 2622081 and Mr. Byrn’s complaint at 2010 WL 2833809)
  • Sharron Angle in 2010.  See Righthaven’s complaint at 2010 WL 3690541 and Sharron Anlge’s answer at 2010 WL 3968913.
  • In 2008,  Sarah Palin caught heat from the band Heart over her use of their song “Barracuda.”  Although it didn’t result in litigation, it did generate a fair amount of press coverage, and even some legal scholarship.  To see examples, try “Sarah Palin” /p barracuda in News or All State and Federal Materials on WestlawNext:

There are, of course, a host of more recent examples.  The Westlaw welcome page has the link to a complaint filed against Newt Gingrich and his presidential campaign by Rude Music, Inc., a company owned by one of the musicians from the band Survivor, alleging that Gingrich’s campaign infringed on the copyright of the classic song “Eye of the Tiger” by using it at his campaign events.  (For the complaint, see 2012 WL 264219).  NBC asked Mitt Romney’s campaign to remove an anti-Gingrich ad featuring Tom Brokaw’s reporting.

I ran the following search on WestlawNext in All State and Federal materials:

Search:  recording song music copyright infring! /s politic! /5 campaign conference event

This search returns over 550 documents, including 75 cases and over 90 trial court docs.

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect search to capture filings of this sort.  If you’re interested in tracking newly-filed campaign-related copyright cases, you might simply run nature-of-suit code for copyright (820) and review results for candidate names.  However, we did review Federal Election Committee’s Campaign Finance data for commonalities among campaign and committee names to come up with the following search.

NOS(820) & PTN(CAMPAIGN DEMOCRATIC DFL REPUBLICAN GOP RE-ELECT! ELECT ELECTION CANDIDA! CHANGE PAC PAF (POLITICAL +3 FUND ACTION) (#FOR +2 GOVERNOR PRESIDENT SENATOR SENATE HOUSE REPRESENT! CONGRESS) VOTE! DFL GOB)

The Search seems to work best on WestlawNext where it delivers 90 results in Federal District Courts.  Use the Filing Date filter on the left to limit results to recent dockets:

Political campaigns of the past have yielded an interesting variety of legal issues surrounding the use of music in the campaign.  Based on the early start we’re seeing with the Rude Music v. Gingrich 2012 case, this promises to be no exception.