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Huckabee, Kim Davis, Rocky III, and Copyright

In honor of Super Tuesday, take a look at this article about a lawsuit filed by the copyright holder of “Eye of The Tiger” against Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign:

Huckabee’s presidential campaign organization faces a lawsuit for playing Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” without permission during a rally [in September of 2015] for Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, who was released from jail for contempt of court stemming from her refusal to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.

The lawsuit notes that “artists’ complaints of candidates’ unauthorized use of their songs have become an election-year staple.” Is this an argument for or against the efficacy of copyright laws?

Either way, Huckabee himself has been the subject of prior complaints:  “according to news reports, in 2008 the founder of the band Boston demanded that Mr. Huckabee’s presidential campaign stop playing the Boston hit “More Than a Feeling” at his events.” To support the argument that Huckabee willfully violated the copyright for “Eye of the Tiger,” the lawsuit claims that Mr. Huckabee is “sophisticated and knowledgeable concerning the copyright laws.” He is the the “author or co-author of more than a dozen copyrighted works” and  “is himself a musician whose band, Capitol Offense, has performed at political and other public events.” The lawsuit does not specify the method used to broadcast the song (boombox? Cell phone speaker? Speaker mounted on a truck?), and whether the whole song was played, although, in its answer to the complaint, the defendant states that the song played for approximately one minute. 

The suit seeks to prevent Huckabee from using the song again without authorization and requests damages. What would those damages be? Did Huckabee (or his campaign, which is the defendant) profit in any way from this playing of the song? Does the publisher agree with Huckabee’s support of Kim Davis? If so, would the publisher have sued?

If this suit goes to trial, which side is likely to win? The defense raises four affirmative defenses to the claim of copyright infringement, but the most interesting are “fair use” and “religious assembly.”

To make the fair use argument, the defendant first lists the four factors of fair use:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The defendant then tries to show that each of these prongs supports  his playing of the song, but the most interesting arguments is that “the purpose and character of the use was of a non-commercial and religious nature [because it was] signifying joy and praise at the release of Mrs. Davis from confinement.”

The religious assembly argument is also thought-provoking. The argument begins by stating that the relevant federal copyright protection law states “that the performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work in the course of services at a place of worship “or other religious assembly” is not an infringement of copyright.”

For this argument to proceed, the defendant must first demonstrate that the song is a “nondramatic” musical work rather than a song that appears in opera or musical. Eye of the Tiger is a Grammy-winning song that appeared on a Survivor album and still plays on the radio (depending on one’s Pandora preferences), but, if it was written originally for Rocky III, can it be a “nondramatic” musical work?

Finally, the defendant would have to show that the rally for Ms. Davis was a “religious assembly,” as the law defines that. The defendant gathers several facts to support this claim, including Mr. Huckabee’s status as a Baptist minister and his decision to attend the “assembly in support of Mrs. Davis as an expression of his sincerely-held Christian religious beliefs, the fact that Huckabee 

As documented in news video of the assembly, the most prominent artifacts present and visible at the September 8, 2015, assembly in support of Mrs. Davis were numerous Christian crosses or crucifixes and occasional Bibles held by members of the public in attendance. Other than signs announcing WE STAND WITH GOD
 Pro Family Rally,” the most visible signs or placards held by attendees bore such religious messages as “Freedom ofReligion,” “Enough is Enough,” “Rosa Parks of Religious Freedom,” and “God’s law will prevail.” One or more signs also criticized the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodge
How many of these artifacts are religious? How many are political? And, while it may be true that “no Huckabee for President campaign signs were present at the assembly or visible in news reports of the assembly,” the controversy surrounding Ms. Davis was a prominent political story. But are preachers prevented from talking about political issues? What proportion of artifacts defines “religious assembly?” 
The plaintiff’s complaint and the defendant’s answer are both short and fascinating. Read this article for a great summary and analysis of this case; this article is also where this blog found out about the case. And stay tuned, because this is one worth following.
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