Read this before using copyrighted music in web videos

Mr. desmoinesdem alerted me to a recent court ruling in Don Henley’s copyright suit against Republican Chuck DeVore for two web videos DeVore made during his unsuccessful 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.

LATE UPDATE: Writing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation blog, Kurt Opsahl doesn’t like this court ruling:

The [DeVore] videos were core political speech, the most protected form of speech under the First Amendment. Yet the court blocked them, relying on copyright law. What happened?

The trouble is the misguided way that some courts have distinguished “parody” from “satire” in when measuring fair use. “Parody,” in the world of copyright, means using a work in order to comment on the work itself (or its creator). Parody gets a wide berth under fair use. So, for example, when 2 Live Crew famously sent-up Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” the Supreme Court found that the use was permitted. A “satire,” in contrast, involves using a work to comment on something other than the work itself.

Some courts have drawn the conclusion that “satires” are disfavored under the fair use doctrine. That’s the mistake the court made in Henley v. DeVore. […]

Satire is most effective when can draw from the well of society’s shared experiences, using common cultural references to leverage the commentary and reach a wider audience. It can take a known quantity, and add new meaning and message – classic characteristics of a fair use.

Fortunately, courts have increasingly begun to understand that fair use can and should apply to transformative satires. So although the judge in Henley v. DeVore got it wrong, other courts will have a chance to recognize the value of satire and fair use.

Click over to read the whole thing.

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  • Oh Crap!

    It’s the end of the world as we know it. No, wait, scratch that, those words are copyrighted lyrics from the band R.E.M..  I can’t see this really. ASCAP/BMI has run this shit into the ground. Am I supposed to pay every single time I sing somebody’s song if I am NOT singing in an establishment that has paid ASCAP fees?  What about if I am alone, driving in my car down the road, with the radio on?  Can I sing along then, or do I need to pay a royalty fee? We’re getting close to Harrison Bergeron territory here.  

  • Sioux City

    is in deep doo doo

    • hadn't thought of that one

      One of the issues in this case was that DeVore used the whole song (rather than a snippet), and so did that woman in Sioux City.

      But I guess if the copyright holders to “We Built This City” were upset, they would have already asked Sioux City to take down the YouTube. I believe Henley did that right away.

      • Henley supported McCain?

        That has to be a fib on Don’s part LOL.  

        • I didn't read the brief

          just the reference to the brief in the judge’s opinion. It’s possible that Henley donated to one of McCain’s previous campaigns, like his 2000 presidential bid. Or, it’s possible he supported McCain in 2008–I thought it was amusing that Henley protested that he’s not a liberal.

          Another thing I learned from this case is that someone else wrote “The Boys of Summer”–not Henley. It sure sounds like a song he would have written, so no wonder he ended up recording it.