Fresh off the news that Mike Huckabee finally settled the copyright infringement suit over his use of a Survivor song at his Kim Davis rally, we have now learned that the campaign for Ted Cruz has apparently also had an issue with properly licensing music for its campaign. There's a degree or two of separation here to be aware of, with the Cruz campaign having hired an ad agency to handle its digital advertising, and with that ad agency apparently flouting the licensing rules of the music it acquired with pretty stunning abandon. Still, while accusations of infringement by musicians against politicians so rarely are simple cases of infringement, instead fraught with politics, this one, as Eric Goldman notes, appears to be pretty straightfoward.
Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign allegedly hit the copyright infringement bullseye. (All of the following facts are allegations from the complaint, but the defendants’ motion to dismiss doesn’t challenge any of them). The Cruz campaign’s ad agency, Madison McQueen, downloaded two songs from Audiosocket, which I would categorize as a stock music agency. The songs are “Lens” by Sarah Schachner and “Fear of Complacency” by Brad Couture. In each case, the ad agency agreed to Audiosocket’s standard Small Business License Agreement, which prohibited any use “for political purposes” and included a $25k liquidated damages clause. Audiosocket attached unique IDs to its downloads that fingers the ad agency as the downloader of these songs.
Despite the license restrictions, the campaign used both songs in promotional material. Lens was used in the “Victories” video (apparently offline), viewed 78,000 times on YouTube. After the campaign was told that its use was unauthorized, the campaign nevertheless broadcast the video 86 times on Fox Business News (if criminal copyright infringement were being prosecuted, which it won’t be because the DOJ would never go after a sitting Senator for such things, would this fact provide the necessary willfulness?). Fear of Complacency was used in the “Best to Come” video, viewed 12,000 times on YouTube.
It's typical for these types of complaints to be layered in nuance and interpretation, with a dash of one side or the other misunderstanding how licensing, copyright, and the rights that surround public performances work. This does not appear to be one of those cases, as the agreement Madison McQueen agreed to is fairly straightforward and specifically forbids the exact use for which the music was incorporated. As Goldman notes, whereas most campaigns would simply apologize and pay to have all of this go away, the Cruz campaign instead offered up a motion to dismiss. That motion didn't rebut any of the allegations. Instead, Cruz's lawyers argued that the musicians had only applied for copyright registrations and had yet to have that process completed, that it's unclear how many times it should be said that the campaign infringed on the copyrights for the songs, that Audiosocket can't stack its copyright complaint alongside its breach of contract complaint, and that all of this is a moot point because -- not making this up -- Cruz lost and gave up on his candidacy.
The court, predictably, denied every argument in the campaign's motion to dismiss. Which means it's settlement time.
Now that the plaintiffs survived the motion to dismiss, I’d expect the parties to revisit a settlement. The sticking point may be computing damages, especially the liquidated damages where the parties may disagree about how many times the license was breached. If Audiosocket accepts $25k per song, it should take $50k or less to buy them out–easily doable (especially if he still has $9M cash on hand). Audiosocket says it’s not claiming each of the 90k+ streams count as individual breaches (which would lead to over $2B of liquidated damages), but I’m not sure what their compromise position will be, so it’s hard to guess how far apart they really are.
To me, the most interesting unresolved question is how this lawsuit and failed motion to dismiss will change any of Sen. Cruz’s positions about copyright law. I’m not familiar with his IP platform, but he now has a first-hand brush with copyright infringement that ought to make him more empathetic towards other well-meaning and honest Americans who find themselves unwittingly staring down the barrel of a copyright infringement shotgun. Unfortunately, if past politicians’ response to being accused of IP infringement is any guide, the chances of Sen. Cruz becoming a champion of user rights are remote.
The more interesting question to my mind is exactly how all of this would play out if Senator Ted Cruz was instead local mailman Ted Cruz, without the legal team and political cache that he enjoys to back him up? We talk a great deal around here about citizens who are engulfed in questionable copyright actions, yet here is a Senator who will be able to pay some sum of money that he has at his ready to make all of this go away.
You would hope that this would lead to some kind of empathy in the halls of government, but naaaaaaah.