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Another election year, another allegation that a Republican politician infringed an artist’s copyright for a campaign commercial.
This time, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie is accused of ripping off a famous Monty Python skit. Christie posted the ad to the campaign’s official YouTube site, having already aired the spot on TV. The skit features Michael Palin as a newscaster reporting the phenomenon of “deja vu” as subtitles attack Christie’s challenger, Jon Corzine.
Monty Python cast members say they are strongly considering a lawsuit and used the opportunity to crack some jokes:
“I’m surprised that a former U.S. Attorney isn’t aware of his copyright infringement when he uses our material without permission,” said Palin. “He’s clearly made a terrible mistake. It was the endorsement of Sarah Palin he was after — not that of Michael Palin.”
“It is totally outrageous that a former US Attorney knows so little about the law that he thinks he can rip off people,” said Monty Python’s Terry Jones. “On the other hand — another of Bush’s legal appointees was Alberto Gonzales and he didn’t seem to know much about the law either…”
The clip has already been removed from YouTube. However, Huffington Post has a copy on its website.
In the past year, there have been other lawsuits against politicians. Three months ago, John McCain was forced to apologize to singer Jackson Brown, settling a lawsuit for using “Running on Empty” in a campaign commercial. Other litigation involves Don Henley battling California senatorial candidate Charles DeVore over use of songs.
No court has fully resolved whether politicians may use copyrighted material as “fair use” protected political speech in campaign commercials. A judge would probably look at the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market. Christie’s appropriation of the Monty Python sketch seems to leverage more of the underlying copyrighted work than past cases on this topic.
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