by JS O’Brien
Jackson Browne is suing the McCain campaign and the Ohio Republican Party for copyright infringement.Â It seems there was an ad in Ohio mocking Barack Obama’s advice to inflate tires to save gasoline, and the Republicans decided to use Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty as a theme song.Â Â They didn’t license the rights from Browne, which presents a smallÂ problem.
In this country, it is illegal to take something someone else makes without permission or withoutÂ paying for it.Â This includes what people make when they write, compose, perform, mix, film, edit, or what have you.Â The general idea is that we all deserve to be paid for our work, even when what we produce is a product of our minds.Â You don’t get to steal diamonds from someone who dug them out of the earth, and you don’t get to steal music from someone who dug it out of his head.
I’ll try not to think about that image I just made in my own head.
Having said all that, copyright law is sometimes murky.Â News organizations, documentarians, educators, libraries, and others get special dispensations, and there are “fair use” provisions for everyone that allow reproduction of small parts of certain intellectual properties under sometimes ill-defined rules.Â It’s possible to run afoul of copyright law entirely unintentionally, and there is much case law defining what is and isn’t allowed.Â
There is no doubt, however, that taking a song and using it as a soundtrack, without obtaining rights,Â violates copyright law.Â That’s not a gray area.Â That’s flat-out, willful, premeditated, theft.
The McCain campaign says that it was all the Ohio Republican Party’s doing.Â Browne’s attorneys think otherwise.Â Either way, a number of Republicans have been caught stealing in a very public way, which begs theÂ question:
Should we kick them out of office because they steal, or because they’re so stupid that they show the entire world that they steal?