John McCain settles Jackson Browne lawsuit, apologizes for use of song

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John McCain settles Jackson Browne lawsuit, apologizes for use of song

Tue Jul 21, 2009 @ 06:45AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

John-mccain We can finally close the book on the 2008 presidential election now.

Singer Jackson Browne has announced he's settled a lawsuit against John McCain. 

Last year, Browne sued the Republican presidential candidate for using Browne's "Running on Empty" in a campaign commercial. Browne alleged that McCain had violated his copyright on the song, had violated the Lanham Act by implying a false endorsement, and had also violated his publicity rights by using Browne's voice in the political advertisement. Here's the original complaint

In response to the lawsuit, McCain cited "fair use" and filed a motion to dismiss as well as an anti-SLAPP lawsuit against Browne, accusing the singer of trying to chill free speech. In February, a California District Court handed Browne a victory by denying McCain's motions.

According to a statement put out by both parties, "the financial terms of the settlement are confidential."

The defendants in the case, including McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the Ohio Republican Committee, also put out an apology:

"We apologize that a portion of the Jackson Browne song 'Running on Empty' was used without permission. Although Senator McCain had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the creation or distribution of the web campaign video, Senator McCain does not support or condone any actions taken by anyone involved in his 2008 presidential election campaign that were inconsistent with artists' rights or the various legal protections afforded to intellectual property. The ORP, RNC and Senator McCain pledge in future election campaigns to respect and  uphold the rights of artists and to obtain permissions and/or licenses for copyrighted works where appropriate."

The decision to settle —and apologize — may catch some people in the political and legal spheres by surprise. Many observers to this dispute have opined that political speech is a sacrosanct right protected by the First Amendment. The potential courtroom battle between the esteemed singer and the respected politician was looked at as possibly clearing up the boundaries between commercial and political speech and influencing how future political campaigns use copyrighted music.

For the answer to the question of the legality of using copyrighted music in a campaign commercial, attention may now shift to a similar lawsuit filed by singer Don Henley against Republican senate candidate Charles DeVore over the use of the songs "Boys of Summer" and "All She Wants to Do is Dance" in a campaign video produced for YouTube. 


Jackson Browne responds: "Pursuing this case was not a partisan effort. This case was about artists' rights and trying to ensure that our intellectual property rights are respected. Every day, artists' rights are eroded more and more, and pursuing a lawsuit of this nature is the way one can raise the issue, make the point, and protect others in the future."

Lawrence Iser, attorney for Browne responds: "The outcome of the litigation is significant. It means that persons running for public office are subject to the same laws governing the use of intellectual property as everyone else."

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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