May 25, 2010 / 12:29 AM / 10 years ago

Rocker David Byrne sues Florida governor over ad

DETROIT (Billboard) - David Byrne is suing the governor of Florida, alleging that he used the Talking Heads’ 1985 single “Road to Nowhere” without permission or proper licenses.

U.S. musician David Byrne attends a conference with public before screening his movie "True Stories" at the Estoril Film Festival in this November 13, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Hugo Correia

Byrne is seeking $1 million in damages from Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s also Florida’s former attorney general, and his senatorial campaign for use of the song earlier this year in a website and YouTube ad attacking his then-Republican primary opponent, Marco Rubio. Crist has since changed his campaign and is running as an independent candidate.

The suit (Case Number 8:10-CV1187-T26 (MAP)) was filed Monday in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

Byrne told that he learned of the Crist ad from a friend in New York, where the Talking Heads co-founder resides. “I was pretty upset by that,” said Byrne, who had Warner Bros. Records contact the Crist campaign, which subsequently stopped using the ad.

But, Byrne contended, “in my opinion the damage had already been done by it being out there. People that I knew had seen (the ad), so it had gotten around. The suit, he added, “is not about politics...It’s about copyright and about the fact that it does imply that I would have licensed it and endorsed him and whatever he stands for.”

“Road to Nowhere” appeared on Talking Heads’ 1985 album “Little Creatures,” and reached No. 25 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. It also appears in several films, including “Reality Bites” and “Religulous.” None of the other Talking Heads members are involved in the suit.

Byrne’s attorney Lawrence Iser — who also represented Jackson Browne in his successful suit against 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s illegal use of his song “Running on Empty” — said the Crist campaign did not obtain either a synchronization license required to use Byrne’s composition or a master use license for the Talking Heads’ recording.

“I was fairly astonished that this soon after the settlement of Browne vs. McCain, yet another politician with national aspirations is doing this again,” Iser said. “We just a year ago settled Browne vs. McCain, and the defendants there — including the Repbulican National Party — made a pledge ... they would respect artists’ rights and license copyrighted works. To have it happen again in January is fairly shocking. They can’t say, ‘We didn’t know that you have to get a license to use songs in commercials.’ ... They absolutely did know.”

Iser said the $1 million damages claim is based on previous offers Byrne has received for use of his songs in commercials.

Byrne isn’t the only musician to have a song involved in Florida’s hotly contested senatorial campaign. Rubio used the Steve Miller Band’s 1976 hit “Take the Money and Run” for a YouTube ad attacking Crist. Miller issued a statement saying that, “The Steve Miller Band and Steve Miller do not endorse Marco Rubio’s campaign or any political candidates and respectfully request that Mr. Rubio learn more about publishing law and intellectual property rights. I also ask that in the future he extends me the courtesy of asking permission before using my songs.” The ad was pulled, and a spokeswoman for Miller said the matter was settled to his satisfaction.

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