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NYC Litigation Blog

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Considering Copyright Laws This Election Season

Can Political Campaigns Violate Copyright Law?

In some respects, political advertising is given much more leeway than ads for products and services, but not when it comes to copyrights. If you own a copyright to something and it is used as part of political advertising without your permission, it may be a violation of the law.

Because of various state and federal consumer protection and anti-fraud laws, a private business cannot make false claims in advertising, but that is not a problem for political ads, according to Time magazine. If you sell junk food but claim it can be part of a weight loss program, the Federal Trade Commission can order the ad pulled and that the agency review your future ads. If you are a diet pill manufacturer making false claims about your products, you can be fined millions of dollars. 

When it comes to political ads, however, because of first amendment free speech protections, truth is optional. If a broadcaster runs political ads (and they’re a major revenue source come election time) it cannot refuse to air an ad even if it knows the contents are untrue. 

While being untruthful is not a problem for political ads, violating copyright laws is. The most recent example is a video produced by Rand Paul's presidential campaign which ran for a short time on YouTube, according to the Washington Post. The video was blocked due to a copyright claim from Warner Music Group (WMG) thanks in part to an automated system allowing copyright owners to block material on the popular video sharing website. With this system, YouTube matches submissions against a database of copyrighted material when a video is submitted. If they wish, a copyright owner can block a video from being viewed if permission for use of the copyrighted material was not granted.

Paul’s stumbling block was the use of Shuttin’ Detroit Down, a WMG song by John Rich, which was incorporated into the video without permission. It’s a 2009 song about the poor state of the economy. The Post sought comment from WMG but they did not respond.

If you are a copyright owner in the New York City area and see or hear that your material is being used without your permission, the copyright attorneys at Thomas M. Lancia PLLC can help you enforce your rights and protect your interests. If you have any questions or concerns about copyright laws, contact us today at (212) 964-3157.


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