According to CNN, Don Henley, one of the founding members of The Eagles, has filed a lawsuit against Senator Charles DeVore for using one of his songs for a political campaign. How much protection does copyright offer in these cases?
The whole issue of copyright and legal use of songs is such a murky world. It’s not unusual that a politician would want to use a song that they know resonates with the public: they want to resonante, too. But what can a songwriter do if their song is being used for purposes they disagree with?
Popular opinion seems to be that a copyright holder can stop the distribution of their property by simply asking. YouTube encounters this all the time. Videos are constantly being posted and removed in order to comply with a copyright holder’s request.
In Henley’s case, DeVore is responding with arrogance:
“While the legal issues play out, it’s time to up the ante on Mr. Henley’s liberal goon tactics. By popular request, I have penned the words to our new parody song.”
DeVore then posted the lyrics of a song he called “All She Wants to Do Is Tax.”
If DeVore is claiming some sort of interpretation of the Fair Use clause of the Copyright Law to post his new version of Henley’s song, he probably won’t get far. Section 107 of that law states in part that fair use must consider the nature of the copyrighted work. Certainly DeVore’s use would contravene that section.
But politicians are always using copyrighted music, often without permission. In such cases, if the copyright holder objects, most politicians and other users of copyright material will simply (and quietly, usually) stop using the song. It seems that DeVore plans to fight.
DeVore may have problems with another part of the copyright law’s Fair Use clause: use of a song won’t be considered “fair” if such use carries the possibility of damaging the potential market for that song. Henley could claim that the use of his song by the Republican party might alienate a large segment of the population.
The problem with the Copyright Law is that it is somewhat vague regarding the use of other people’s material. It specifically does not say how much of a song can be used without permission.
If your songs are being used by others for any reason that you object to, I’m afraid to say that it’s going to be something for lawyers to sort out. My advice, as always is this: Don’t just rely on copyright. You really must regsiter the copyright of any song you plan to record or shop around. This can be done for a fee (usually between $35 – $50), and it strengthens any legal case you may find yourself in.
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