Nick Rogers: Jackson Browne is not happy

Nick Rogers

If, in 1952, Adlai Stevenson supporters used Benny Goodman’s 1921 song “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” without permission in a regional TV ad against Dwight D. Eisenhower, they may have gotten away with it.

But in 2008 — where even a regionally successful singer-songwriter could track those accessing his music — the Ohio Republican Party should have known better.

They’re named in a lawsuit, along with Republican presidential candidate John McCain and the Republican National Committee, filed last week by Jackson Browne. Browne is a notably outspoken liberal Democrat and, most importantly in this case, the singer-songwriter of 1977’s “Running on Empty.”

Browne’s suit concerns the use of the song in a McCain campaign ad — aired in Ohio and Pennsylvania — mocking Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s suggestion that proper tire inflation could conserve gasoline.

It’s not just Browne’s copyright concerns that have come into play. Citing Browne’s lifelong lean to the left, and a subcategory of the trademark-minded Lanham act, Browne’s lawyer calls use of “Empty” to poke fun at Obama “anathema” to the performer.

The McCain team has demanded his name be omitted from the lawsuit, which seeks permanent injunction against further use of Browne’s music and $75,000 in damages. Their contention: The creation and distribution of the ad was the sole responsibility of the Ohio Republican Party.

So if the Rhode Island Republican Party aired an ad during FCC safe-harbor hours with the “kick your b——- little a—, punk” portion of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Get in the Ring,” McCain’s team should be absolved of guilt? And so should Obama, should his Utah supporters have a laugh over McCain’s prisoner-of-war stint using Merle Haggard’s “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me”? OK, then.

I have a hard time believing someone in the McCain camp didn’t vet the ad. I have an easier time believing they presumed the song’s rights had been properly cleared. Whether it’s hubris, or just plain stupidity, it always surprises me that — in a technologically flattened world — there are those who think they won’t get caught when manipulating likeness, copyright or intellectual property.

When you play with that, then you play with fire. Hang on.

Um, I’ve got to go. Mick’s and Keith’s lawyers are on the phone.

Nick Rogers can be reached at (217) 788-1515. Read his blog, Unpainted Huffhines, at blogs.sj-r.com/unpaintedhuffhines.