(image courtesy davidbyrne.com)
In the concert movie, Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wears a very large white suit on stage. That suit is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and stands as an iconic image of 80's rock.
David Byrne likes big suits; what's more, he's capable of launching big suits against folks who don't respect his copyright, folks like former Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. Crist apparently used the 1985 Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere" in a 2010 Senate campaign ad. Byrne objected to the unpermitted use of his song, and made no bones about suing Crist for $1 million.
In a web-journal entry about the lawsuit, Byrne says:
"It turns out I am one of the few artists who has the bucks and (guts) to challenge such usage. Other artists may actually have the anger but not want to take the time and risk the legal bills."
As part of the undisclosed settlement to the lawsuit, Charlie Crist agreed to record an apology to David Byrne on YouTube. You can see it below:
Byrne's lawyer, Lawrence Iser, released this statement on resolution of the suit:
“If a politician wants to use a popular song to generate interest and excitement or popular appeal, he or she must obtain a license to use the song. There is no difference between selling cars or toothpaste and selling a political candidate, and the law doesn't provide a free pass to persons running for office. We are hopeful that given the recent examples of the cases filed by Jackson Browne, Don Henley, and now David Byrne, politicians will obtain all necessary licenses before doing this in the next election cycle.”
Byrne's brave stand against unauthorized use of his work illustrates two things, I think.
First of all -- as Byrne himself alluded to -- it's difficult for artists to police unauthorized use for themselves. Had Byrne not the wealth and resources to launch this lawsuit, the use may have gone unchallenged. Byrne had to retain counsel and travel to Tampa, Florida to make his stand, all of which costs more time and money than the average artist can spare.
Secondly, this lawsuit shows that protecting one's copyright is not always about money. While Byrne put a price on the infringement, his original objection was to the fact that his work was being distorted in the campaign advertising. Part of the reason artists expect secondary users to obtain a licence for use is so that they can examine the nature of the use and feel comfortable about it.
Crist did not give Byrne that opportunity. As his apology shows, he was wrong to do so.