Posted: March 30th, 2012
By Pierce Haar *
Always one for “grand ideas,” Newt Gingrich surely felt right at home playing “Eye of the Tiger” at various rallies in recent months, including during a speech on the night of the Iowa caucus. The song was the theme for “Rocky III” and topped the charts in 1982. However, a member of Survivor, the band who famously wrote and performed the song, did not feel the same way about Gingrich’s use of the song. Survivor’s guitarist-songwriter, Frankie Sullivan, sued Newt Gingrich on January 30, 2012 for copyright infringement. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin Newt Gingrich from using the song during his campaign and also seeks damages from the court for past infringement. Mr. Sullivan claims that he is not suing Newt Gingrich for political reasons, but rather to enforce the copyright of Survivor’s famous hit. Mr. Sullivan’s attorney claims that they tried to reach out to Newt Gingrich’s camp for months in order to resolve the issue outside of court, but to no avail.
Mitt Romney had also infringed on the copyrighted song earlier in the campaign season. Mr. Sullivan’s attorney sent the Romney campaign a cease and desist letter, which they complied with immediately. Mr. Sullivan’s attorney has also sent cease and desist letters to the Gingrich campaign, but the campaign has not responded or ceased using the copyrighted song. Commenting on the issue, Mr. Sullivan said: “My legacy, my life, has been ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ Those copyright laws are there to protect people like me who are lucky enough to create a copyright. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is an iconic copyright. It’s become a lifelong legacy — something you want to pass down to your kids.”
Over the years Republican candidates have run into several legal issues concerning their use of copyrighted materials during campaign activities. In addition to the aforementioned incident with the Romney campaign, Michele Bachmann was sent a cease and desist letter last summer by Tom Petty for her use of “American Girl.” Mr. Petty had even issued a cease and desist letter to former president George W. Bush for his use of “I Won’t Back Down.” In 2008, John McCain used “Running on Empty” in a campaign ad and was sued by Jackson Browne for copyright infringement. McCain also infringed upon several of John Mellencamp’s songs throughout his campaigns, drawing the ire, and the telephone calls, of the famous rocker. More recently, the Talking Heads were able to coax a formal public apology out of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist for infringing upon their copyright song “Road to Nowhere” in a campaign ad.
If you are beginning to see a pattern in these stories, it is because there is one. The candidates that have been sued in recent years for copyright infringement have overwhelmingly been Republicans, seeking to tap into the blue collar or Americana spirit of famous rock anthems to help elicit support during campaign seasons. While entertainers tend to lean Democrat overall, it is not just politics at play when Republican infringers are being sued. For many, including Mr. Sullivan, these songs are more than a piece of property in a legal sense. Rather, the songs are the product of hard work and creativity, with an imprint of the artist. Artists rightfully take issue when their “babies” are misused or abused by others. Copyrights definitely have a lucrative financial facet to them. However, it is undeniable that there is also a more human side to works of art.
* Pierce Haar is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law and a member of the Pro Bono Board, serving as the Special Trips Coordinator. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Peace, War, and Defense from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon graduation in May 2013, Mr. Haar intends to practice either criminal law or civil litigation.