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.
In the immortal words of the @TheDoobieBros—”What the people need is a way to make them smile.”
— William Murray Golf (@WMurrayGolf) September 25, 2020
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.