Just as his presidential run was ending, Ted Cruz was also hit with a $2 million copyright infringement lawsuit. According to The Seattle Times, the music-licensing firm Audiosocket filed a federal lawsuit claiming Cruz’s campaign improperly used two copyrighted songs even though it signed a contract stating the material would not be used in political ads or television broadcasts.
One of the advertisements aired more than 86 times. Audiosocket is seeking $25,000 for each of those alleged contract breaches.
It’s hard to believe that professionals working on a national campaign could make such an expensive mistake, but it happens all the time. In fact, an NPR compiled a list of eight recent examples of politicians skirting copyright laws and blasting copyrighted songs to promote their campaigns.
The takeaway? If they can get busted, so can you.
A Tale of Politicians and Copyright Infringement
Bill Corbett Jr. (@wjcorbett), president of Corbett Public Relations, has worked on many political campaigns in a variety of roles, including campaign manager and public relations and communications director. He describes elections as “the ultimate in personal branding.”
The desire to get voters’ attention can drive campaigns to use popular music that many people already have a connection to. But that music is likely copyrighted, and that's where some politicians run into trouble. Without permission to use the song, there's the risk of copyright infringement and public embarrassment if the musician comes out against the politician.
Corbett recommends that his clients secure the appropriate permissions. If that isn’t possible, he says they can find license-free music or create their own music or themes. The key is to pick a path sooner rather than later.
“The wrong approach is waiting for controversy to erupt and then responding," Corbett notes. "This will take away time resources and distract from the candidate and the campaign’s message.”
Pro tip: Research copyrights and licensing before you set your advertisements to music. Corbett often sends his clients to the licensing information on the ASCAP site.
How to Avoid a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
National political campaigns can have hundreds, if not thousands, of people working for them, yet they still get caught up in copyright infringement claims. That should tell you one thing: if it can happen to presidential campaigns, it can happen to small businesses.
And it's not just music you need to be careful with. According to Sonia Lakhany (@LadyLanhamEsq), managing attorney of Lakhany Law, PC, artists can have copyright protection for almost anything they create, including...
So let's say you wanted to post a funny picture or a movie clip to your business's Twitter feed. You could be committing copyright infringement. Moreover, Lakhany says the creator of a work doesn't need to register a copyright because "a certain level of copyright protection exists once the author completes the work in some tangible form."
To avoid copyright infringement, Lakhany suggests consulting with an intellectual property lawyer to find out if the material is available and how to get permission to use it.
Pro tip: Just because you receive notice of a suit doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily committed copyright infringement. However, it almost always means you need to defend yourself.
That’s where General Liability Insurance comes in. General Liability can help pay for your attorney fees and other legal expenses when you're accused of:
- Copyright infringement.
- Invasion of privacy.
Learn more in the eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner’s Guide to Advertising Injury.
Meet the Experts
Bill Corbett is president of Corbett Public Relations, an award-winning professional public and media relations firm based in Floral Park, New York. He is a recognized public relations, media relations, crisis communications, digital media, and personal branding expert with over 25 years of experience. Known for effectively building and protecting reputations and brands, Corbett’s mission is to provide businesses and entrepreneurial-minded individuals with effective and goal-focused marketing strategies and services.
Sonia Lakhany is the managing attorney at Lakhany Law, PC, an intellectual property firm specializing in trademark law with offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles. In addition to her law practice, Lakhany teaches trademark and is a frequent speaker and blogger on brand protection. She is also active on several boards and committees in the Atlanta and Los Angeles legal communities. She has been featured in dozens of magazine and news articles, as well as on radio and television. Most recently, she was awarded “Best Personal Brand of 2015” by the Technology Association of Georgia.