Joe Walsh (Famous Guitarist) Teaches Joe Walsh (Republican Candidate) About Copyright Law

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By Eriq Gardner

Another musician is claiming that a political candidate is tone deaf to the nation’s intellectual property laws. And this one has an amusing twist.

Joe Walsh of the Eagles isn’t happy that a Republican congressional candidate in Illinois has co-opted his song “Walk Away” and added silly new lyrics. The candidate’s name? Also Joe Walsh.

Now Peter Paterno, the musician’s LA-based lawyer, has sent a laugh-out-loud letter to the politician, demanding he cease using the song.

The letter begins by schooling politician Joe Walsh that it “might be beneficial” for him to learn a thing or two about the United States Copyright Act:

“It says a lot of things, but one of the things it says is that you can’t use someone else’s song for your political campaign promotion unless you get permission from the owner of the copyright in the song. As far as we can tell you didn’t do that. Maybe you got so busy with the campaign that you just forgot. But that’s not OK.

Second, under that same United States Copyright Act, you’re not allowed to take someone’s song and change the lyrics. This is not to say you’re not allowed to write silly lyrics, you just have to write them to your own music. Now, I know why you used Joe’s music — it’s undoubtedly because it’s a lot better than any music you or your staff could have written. But that’s the point. Since Joe writes better songs than you do, the Copyright Act rewards him by letting him decide who gets to use the songs he writes.”

Then the letter gets pretty interesting in its discussion of trademark issues. Because the two guys share the same name, Paterno mentions the public could be confused as to the source of material or whether there’s an endorsement being made. The letter continues:

“Given that your name is Joe Walsh, I’d think you’d want to be extra careful about using Joe’s music in case the public might think that Joe is endorsing your campaign, or, God forbid, is you.”

Joe Walsh v. Joe Walsh follows a litany of legal disputes between musicians and Republican politicians over the past year. Earlier this year, John McCain had to apologize to Jackson Brown as part of a settlement over the presidential candidate’s use of “Running on Empty” in his campaign. Joe Walsh’s “Eagles” bandmate, Don Henley, is also battling with Congressional candidate Charles DeVore over the use of songs in a campaign.

UPDATE: Candidate Walsh’s campaign manager is defending the song to the Lake County News-Sun: “Obviously, it’s not using the original Joe Walsh lyrics or anything,” he said.