Don Henley takes first blood in battle with Chuck deVore

July 2010


Don Henley has scored a tentative win in his legal fight against the  Republican politician Chuck DeVore. The Eagle’s mainstay is the latest in a string of US musicians to complain about their music being appropriated for political campaigning, usually by Republicans. While politicians can play music at political rallies without specific artist permission, using a blanket public performance licences for songs and sound recordings, they do face legal action if they synchronise a track into a video or advertisement without getting the permission of the artists or their label/publisher.
There have been a spate of recent cases: Jackson Browne reached an out of court settlement with John McCain after the former Presidential contender used one of his songs, Running on Empty, in a campaign video without permission, and David Byrne has just begun legal proceedings against Florida Governor Charlie Crist over his use of a Talking Heads track in a campaign video. Canadian rockers Rush have issued a warning to US Senate hopeful Rand Paul, who is apparently using the band’s music at campaign events and in adverts on his website. The group’s label, Entertainment Group, has sent a cease and desist letter although their lawyer said “this is not a political issue – this is a copyright issue. We would do this no matter who it is”.
The Henley case is slightly different as DeVore, as part of his campaign for a seat in the US Senate, rewrote the lyrics to Eagles song ‘All She Wants To Do Is Dance‘ so it was called ‘All She Wants To Do Is Tax, the “she” being his Democrat rival Barbara Boxer. He also wrote a version of ‘The Boys Of Summer’ that directly mocked Henley for his public support of Barack Obama. When Henley filed a legal complaint, DeVore argued that his songs were parody, in part parodying Hollywood’s general support for liberal politicians – and parody can fall under ‘fair use’ exemptions in US copyright law. The makers of ‘Family Guy’ got away with broadcasting a rework of Disney classic ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ without the permission of the song’s owners because they argued their spoof version, called ‘I Need A Jew’, in part mocked Walt Disney for his purported anti-Semitism. The song was therefore a parody, was protected by First Amendment free speech rights, and constituted fair use under copyright law.

US Judge James Selna has said that DeVore’s reworking of  ‘The Boys Of Summer’ could be argued the second song – which specifically mocked Henley for being a Democrat supporter – constituted parody, but that ‘All She Wants To Do Is Tax’, which mocked Boxer not Henley, is ‘satire’ not ‘parody’, and therefore does not enjoy the protection. However Judge Selna added that even the ‘The Boys Of Summer’ rework, while in part parody, should not be covered by fair use because it “goes far beyond what’s necessary to hold the singer up to ridicule”. The judge’s ruling is not final and therefore not binding.  Henley’s other argument that DeVore implied false endorsement by using reworks of his songs on his website was dismissed.  3rd June 2010

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