The Black Keys Sue Ad Agency Over Song

black keys publicity 2010

Blues-rock duo The Black Keys hammered New York agency Della Femina Rothschild Jeary & Partners with two separate federal lawsuits last week for using their hit song “Tighten Up” to promote a New Jersey bank during the Grammy Awards without permission.

The group is asking judges in Nashville and Manhattan, where the suits are filed, to bar the company from continuing to air the ad.

Nonesuch Records filed the suits on behalf of the band, charging the agency and Valley National Bank with poaching its song without asking or compensating the musicians.

“For at least a two-week period in February 2011 coinciding with the period leading up to and the aftermath of the 2011 Grammy Awards, the Agency and VNB knowingly created and ran a television commercial incorporating significant portions of [Tighten Up] without having sought or obtained a license from Nonesuch to do so,” according to a suit filed in Tennessee, where the group recently moved.

In the commercial, bank president Gerald H. Lipkin makes a pitch with the pop hit playing in the background. Valley National and Della Femina both declined to comment because the litigation is pending.

The attorney representing the Warner Music Group label is asking the judges to award damages in proportion to the popularity of the song, which has been a runaway hit.

“Tighten Up,” which combines fuzz-box guitar with soulful vocals, has sold 735,000 copies so far. The album it was on, Brothers, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s rock album, alternative album, and digital album charts and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. This past February, just as the commercial was airing, the album won two Grammys, one for best Alternative Music Album and the other for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals.

The label says that it sent cease-and-desist letters to the agency and the bank, but their requests were ignored.

No dollar amount was mentioned in the suits, but in court papers, the group is asking the judges to determine how much damage has been done in using its hip cred to flog a stodgy Garden State bank. Looks like someone’s act could use a little tightening up.

See the official video for "Tighten Up" below.