Joe Walsh Tells Joe Walsh to Cease and Desist

rock star joe walsh warns congressman joe walsh

Don't mistake Congressman Joe Walsh for Rock Star Joe Walsh, although life's been good to both of them so far.

A Los Angeles lawyer representing rocker Joe Walsh (James Gang, Eagles) sent a snide cease and desist letter to an Illinois Congressman of the same name for allegedly using the melody from Walsh’s classic song “Walk Away” to promote his campaign, retitled and with new lyrics. Here are some excerpts:

Dear Mr. Walsh:

We represent Joe Walsh—not you, but the musician who plays guitar with the Eagles. Joe wrote a song called “Walk Away.” A lot of people know this song. That’s why when they heard your campaign song, “Lead The Way,” they noticed it was the same song as “Walk Away,” but with peculiar lyrics.

As a candidate for Congress, you probably have a passing familiarity with many of the laws of this great country of ours. It’s possible, though, that laws governing intellectual property are a little too arcane and insufficiently populist for you to really have spent much time on. …

First, there’s 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 promotions unless you get permission from the owner ….

Second, … you’re not allowed to take someone’s song and change the lyrics. … 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.

You might also want to check out the trademark laws. They’re there to protect the public from being confused as to the source of goods or services or as to whether someone endorses particular goods or services. 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. …

I’m sure that when you take this letter to a lawyer with a passing knowledge of copyright and trademark law, he’ll give you some good lawyer words to put in a letter back to us – things like “First Amendment,” “fair use,” “parody” and “so’s your old man.” Having dealt with situations like this in past, we know that the first refuge of political scoundrels is the First Amendment. …

As a former Presidential candidate, Joe Walsh knows how tough it is to get elected. But he always played by the rules. And so should you. Therefore, we must insist that you discontinue using in your campaign any material that infringes the copyright in “Walk Away” (or any of Joe’s other songs).

We trust that you will promptly comply with this request so that we don’t have to go all Jackson Browne on you [referring to Jackson Browne suing John McCain for using his song “Running on Empty” during the 2008 campaign without permission]. …

Congressman Walsh responded in a letter asserting the song was performed as a parody, not for campaign promotion, and is protected under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

— Letter from Peter T. Paterno to U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.), 1/26/2010. Thanks to Professors Janet Richards and Jodi Wilson.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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