The lawsuit between rock artist Jackson Browne and Senator John McCain and the Republican Party was recently settled, and ordered dismissed on August 4, 2009, almost a year after the suit was filed by Browne.
Browne filed a lawsuit against McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the Ohio Republican Party over the unauthorized usage of Browne’s signature song “Running on Empty” in a commercial criticizing the energy policy of then-Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. The commercial, which aired on television and YouTube.com, featured parts of the sound recording of “Running on Empty” throughout.
The causes of action listed in Browne’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in California, included copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and violation of the California common law right of publicity. The defendants’ motion to dismiss, relied, amongst other things, on a fair use defense against Browne’s copyright claims and a political speech exemption against the trademark claim. The motion to dismiss was ultimately denied.
The lawsuit brought to light the clash between intellectual property rights and fair use as well as the First Amendment in the context of political speech, as political campaigns turn more and more to popular culture references in the media to reach out to voters. McCain was also opposed by artists for his campaign’s use of popular music from the Foo Fighters, Heart, and John Mellencamp. Even Obama ran into trouble during his campaign, when soul legend Sam Moore (of “Soul Man” fame) asked Obama to stop using one of his songs.