Hey GOP! It's called "stealing."

by JS O’Brien

Jackson Browne is suing the McCain campaign and the Ohio Republican Party for copyright infringement.  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.  They didn’t license the rights from Browne, which presents a small problem.

That’s illegal.

In this country, it is illegal to take something someone else makes without permission or without paying for it.  This includes what people make when they write, compose, perform, mix, film, edit, or what have you.  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.  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.  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.  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, violates copyright law.  That’s not a gray area.  That’s flat-out, willful, premeditated, theft.

The McCain campaign says that it was all the Ohio Republican Party’s doing.  Browne’s attorneys think otherwise.  Either way, a number of Republicans have been caught stealing in a very public way, which begs the 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?

14 replies »

  1. Well said, JS. Let’s just add this to the ever-increasing litany of reasons to toss the bums out.

  2. Politely requesting that they desist obviously doesn’t work with these thieves. So I hope that this will be exactly how these repulsive assholes who think they are above the law are dealt with from now on. Suck their coffers dry. All of them.

  3. Eww. That bit about sucking dry just made me puke a little in my throat.

    I get your point, though.

  4. 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?

    I’m not sure I see that as an either/or.

  5. OOOOOhhhhh. Look. Look. They stole J.B.’s “Running on Empty”
    No! This is really important. Don’t be distracted by all those billions passing through the slimey clutches of Halliburton, KBR and the rest.
    We have to keep our focus on……….oh, anything trivial.

  6. fortyluv:

    Well, copyright infringement isn’t the least bit trivial to me, and it’s something that’s out there so all the world to see what they’re doing. Anyway, I put this forward as just one more example.

  7. JS:
    I’m not a fan of copyright infringement, having reformed myself of the downloading habit. I make it a point to purchase all of my media….if only I could get my kid to do the same. Anyways, what is your opinion of bloggers that grab news content from wherever, and don’t do the proper citations?

    I’ve been seeing a lot of that lately….


  8. It’s trivial, but it’s another screw up. You need more straws than just the one that broke the camels back to break it. It’s kinda funny how the person that made the song was angered instead of pleased that his song was used on a presidential scale where his views would get the most publicity. I Guess money is worth more than being heard sometimes.

  9. Jeff:

    I have a very low opinion of bloggers who grab news content and publish it, attribution or no. Taking information from a news story is perfectly legal and ethical, though, as long as one doesn’t reprint/copy/paste what someone else has written. For instance, it’s quite common to hear on TV, “The Washington Post is reporting that …” The information itself isn’t copyrighted, but the actual words used in the WP are.

    I think we bloggers can help out news organizations that actually feed us the information we need for our pontificating by mentioning a story and then providing a link. Printing too much of a story deprives the organization of the eyeballs and revenue it deserves from developing the story.

    Having said all that, there are exceptions. For instance, It’s both necessary and permissable to print large sections of someone else’s copy if one is criticizing (or praising) the writer. Parody is also permitted. News organizations (a category that applies to most of what S&R does) get special treatment because they sometimes need to run copyrighted material (especially images) to inform the public. Certain works of vast historical significance, such as the Magruder tape of JFK’s assassination, have been stripped of copyright protection in certain instances, but not all.

    It’s a confusing area of the law and I’ve done a lot of research, but I don’t claim to be an expert. Only attorneys who specialize in the field and read a lot of case law can make that claim, and they’ll tell you pretty quickly that they’re often just guessing at how a court might rule in a particular case. But there are certain cut-and-dried cases, and using music as a soundtrack is one of them. (There’s a famous case of a documentarian using full cuts of Elvis songs in a documentary on Elvis. The courts ruled that using samples was permissable, since it would be impossible to do a documentary on Presley without including some of his music, but that using full songs was stealing a soundtrack.)

    Hope that clarifies.

  10. See, their hands have been in the cookie jar so long that they’ve grown too chubby to be easily removed…

    Musicians seem better able to put the Republicans in their place than the opposition party. Browne, Mellencamp, and REO Speedwagon (i think it was them) have all taken it to the McCain campaign…Pelosi, not so much.

    The point about blogging is valid, to a degree. But, as J.S. points out, good blogs link to the original story and good readers follow that link. The main difference is that anyone can start a blog, but not anyone can start a newspaper. On the other hand, how big a difference exists between what (some) bloggers do and what major dailies do with the wire services? (aside from the fact that the dailies pay the wire services)

  11. I wrote about that as well but aside from the infringement’s kinda funny when you think of how ‘old’ the songs are. Plus, it’s funny to think that by now, the Republicans ‘gotta know’ that most performers don’t even WANT them to use their songs as most of them are Democrat supporters. Or at least, not neocon supporters. I had a suggestion for Camp McCain; ask Toby Keith. He’s pretty good at the hate filled dumb ass lyrics (“next is Iran” [eiran[).. this good ol’ red white n blue boy must be willing to even pen him one for free! Pop music is pretty much not available to these republicans so why don’t they go for good ol’ cuntry music? Some of them are pretty patriotic and isn’t that what button they’re trying to push anyway??

    (and my apologies to any ‘blue’ cahantry music lovers..I just ain’t wan’ of them..ooh, that sounds like a good ol’ cantry music title right dar!, no that ain’t right..)



    ok ok being serious now.. I for one always link when I get a picture or link to a post..