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Legal Issues

Political Ads Give Lesson On Copyright Infringement - November 3, 2014

With Election Day nearly here, the end of political ad season is finally upon us.

As Iowans know, these days you can't use the TV, Internet or radio without being bombarded with ads telling you why you should vote for a particular candidate or, more commonly, what's wrong with the candidate's opponent.

Political ads and campaign events are carefully crafted, often incorporating a wide variety of images, footage and music. And, as campaigns are increasingly discovering, intellectual property laws can create big headaches when ignored, often leading to national news and embarrassment.

For example, what happens when a political candidate plays music at a campaign event?

Without obtaining a license to play the music in advance, the candidate risks being sued for copyright infringement. Just ask John McCain, who received complaints from a wide array of artists, including ABBA, Heart, the Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp, Van Halen and Frankie Valli during the 2008 presidential campaign for his use of their music without permission.

Creators of TV and print ads face similar problems, as one of the current Maryland gubernatorial candidates found out after using a copyright-protected image of Pinocchio without Disney's permission. Apparently he's not a quick study: A few days later he used the Baltimore Ravens logo in a fundraising advertisement and received an angry letter from the Ravens' attorney.

As these politicians have made clear, no matter who you are, and no matter what the circumstance, ignoring intellectual property laws can lead to problems.

Intellectual property laws apply to almost all circumstances involving the reproduction of works of art, such as music and video, logos, likenesses and inventions, no matter the context. Campaigners (and those wishing to influence the candidates) should be sure to obtain the right to use all such works before putting them to use, or risk embarrassment and possible litigation.