Bill Murray Responds To Doobie Bros. Copyright Letter With Snark, No Offer To Pay For Use Of Song

from the listen-to-the-musicians dept

It’s true that you don’t often find us here siding with copyright holders in debates over copyright. It’s not that there isn’t a place for that sort of thing, of course. It’s just kinda not our beat. Also, it’s a bit of a dog-bites-man kind of thing. As folks who tend to think that ever-expanding copyright laws and a protectionist culture that has lost its way are bad for business, we typically focus more on artists who are doing exciting things in new business models, artists who are overstepping the purpose of copyright law and/or hurting their own causes through protectionism, and artists who choose to go the human and awesome route rather than pulling out the litigious nuclear bombs.

In fact, we tried to do just that when we discussed the Doobie Brothers sending famed comedian Bill Murray a rather funny and human-sounding letter about his use of their music in ads for his golf apparel company. The letter was constructed to make it clear that Murray should have paid for the use of the music, but also was chock full of one-liner zingers, self-deprecation, and a general treatment of copyright law as not the world’s most serious thing. It was a good copyright letter, which is rare.

Well, Murray’s legal team has responded. And it seems that they are going all in on the humor part of this exchange, while claiming that Murray’s use of the music is fine because the band hasn’t been harmed.

If you can’t read the whole thing, the response letter is full of puns based on the Doobie Brother’s song catalogue. It includes an offer to send some free Murray golf swag to the band. It throws in a reference to the fact that the band’s legal team was involved in defending Robin Thicke in the “Blurred Lines” case. And it argues, based in part on that association, that the Doobie Brothers haven’t been harmed and so no payment will be forthcoming.

I am sure that Howard King of your firm, who argued that the song “Blurred Lines” did not infringe on Marvin Gaye’s composition “Got To Give It Up”, would agree that your client was not harmed under these circumstances.

This, frankly, is a bad legal position to take. The two circumstances are nothing alike. Murray is using music from the band in an advertisement. The “Blurred Lines” case was all about minute details of how much of a song’s “feel” could be copyrighted — not the music itself, in terms of the copyrightable expression of a song, but, rather, its style.

What Murray could have done would be to respect the band’s congeniality in order to work out an arrangement with minimal impact on his company. The Doobie Brothers’ initial letter, with all of its lack of serious threat, seemed to indicate the band would be open to that sort of thing. But to simply use the song in an advertisement and claim no harm, therefore no copyright infringement, seems like a stretch.

In other words, I would advise Murray’s legal team try to get back in touch with the band and come up with a real offer to work this out.

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Companies: william murray golf

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Comments on “Bill Murray Responds To Doobie Bros. Copyright Letter With Snark, No Offer To Pay For Use Of Song”

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26 Comments
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That One Guy (profile) says:

I guess little creators aren't the only targets of that one

Did… did they seriously just try the ‘it’s okay, it’s giving you exposure‘ argument?

However much Bill Murray is paying his lawyers it is clearly far too much, as with a response like that it is clear that they aren’t fit to defend a jaywalking charge, nevermind something that gets treated(insanely enough) as one of the more serious ‘crimes’ out there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I guess little creators aren't the only targets of that one

Artists and celebrities in general are a bit of a pox on each other.

They thrive off the works of others to become significant – whether it’s someone else’s design or some philosophy a dead Greek or Italian thought about centuries ago. They then surprise everyone and hope enough people fall for it by giving them money like the seven-year-old kid ripping open toys.

Once they’re past that phase though, there is very little respect given to other people, or the foundations they built their work and power upon. It’s why MyNameHere’s biggest criticism of the new creator model was to point out that "YouTube is a problem because it lets everyone create and that makes a lot of garbage and we just can’t have that sort of thing". It’s why Tero Pulkinnen thinks it’s a good idea to market his trash passed off as a 3D modeling engine because surely there will be a universe where Pixar tragically disappears in a random nuclear accident.

Artists and celebrities have usually behaved like snobs. It comes with the territory of behaving in a way that immediately designates consumers and audiences as overeager sheep, or fish in a barrel desperately waiting for bait on a hook. Subsequently, other artists and celebrities are rivals at best and competition at worst to be treated with just as much disdain.

Anonymous Coward says:

It would be simple to ask what do you consider a fair fee for use of the song, simple rule in life respect other people, pay for use of music and art,
If I used bill Murray jokes or likeness in an ad I would expect to pay for it.
Lawyers act for their client instructions.
It sounds to me like Bill Murray is an rich film star
who thinks he does not need to pay for the right to use a song in an ad.

The blurred line case was interesting in that they lost the case because the song sort of sounded like an old song or was in a similar style groove.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately it’s not even close to simple to consider a fair fee for use of the song. Copyright law is ridiculously complicated and I would bet good money that Murray’s legal team was instructed to ensure all the required legal paperwork and whoever should be paid was paid and either they failed at the start or the Doobie Bros don’t have a legit claim. They likely paid a bunch of other people (warner bros?) to use it too. I’m kindof surprised when any musician from the 70s has copyright on their own material as the record labels usually robbed them blind of all copyrights at that time

Bill murray’s jokes ARE being used (in the actual letter they sent to him) without paying him…

It would be really unusual to find any new song that doesn’t "sort of sound" like an old song or is in a "similar style groove" to something else. They lost the blurred lines case because one sides lawyers were better than the other..

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The mechanical and sync licenses generally go to the publisher and record labels though.. I’m not sure what exactly the Doobie brother claim is, I couldn’t find the info about the recording used or who holds what rights on it. Licensing music for use in an ad is not a straightforward process and is not something Bill Murray would have tried to do himself. Judging from the response back whoever did do it seems to be sticking by their guns and saying they did it right the first time

New Mexico Mark says:

Listen to the Music was released in 1972

What is clear as the driven snow to me is that 48 years is a long train runnin’ for copyright fees when we just want to listen to the music. Thinking this is what copyright was originally meant to be is what a fool believes. Of course, lawyers and music companies love this nonsense because it keeps you runnin’ forever and keeps everyone dependin’ on you in perpetuity. It’s high time we dropped these horrible laws into some black water so we can go back to enjoying a real love of music instead of seeing it only as a commodity to be bartered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just desserts...

So they should request all revenue received from ‘bill murry’ merchandise while their song was being used in the commercial.

Since we all know that Copyright is like god, and nothing it does can be wrong, we can only assume that all revenue was due to the copyrighted music that was being used in the ad (I mean Copyright > Merchandise… amirite?)

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