New Jersey residents who are following the presidential race may have heard that this week a band sent a cease-and-desist letter to Mitt Romney’s campaign, telling the presidential candidate that he had no right to use their song “Panic Switch” at his campaign rallies.
It is not novel for political campaigns to be asked not to use certain music, or to be denied licenses to do so by musicians and record labels. In fact, it’s quite common. However, what is interesting about this particular case is the fact that the lawyer who mailed the letter to Romney is being accused of plagiarizing the copyright complaint. While this may not necessarily amount to legal malpractice, it is an example of an attorney not adhering to the best practices of the legal profession.
The cease-and-desist letter sent out by a lawyer on behalf of the band Silversun Pickups contains paragraphs that are nearly identical to a letter sent out about two years ago by another attorney on behalf of Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh against a Republican congressional candidate.
For example, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the letter on behalf of Walsh states: “First, there’s the United States Copyright Act. It says that you can’t use someone else’s song for your campaign promotions unless you get permission from the owner of the copyright in the song.”
The second letter, to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, states: “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 of the copyright in the song.”
The argument that Silversun Pickups’ attorney included was also almost precisely the same as that which the Eagles’ guitarist listed–however, in the case of the Silversun Pickups, the argument did not make as much sense to apply.
While lawyers often cite precedent, briefs and judicial opinions in their legal complaints and documents, when text is completely lifted from the writings of someone else, it must be in quotation marks and credit must be given to the original author.
It is somewhat laughable that a complaint about copyright would be arguably plagiarized. However, the Silversun Pickups probably do not think this is a funny matter. People hire attorneys to look out for their legal interests, understand the law and procedure and manage all legal communications and filings.
If a cease-and-desist letter is simply going to mirror an earlier letter, the band might wonder why it is necessary to hire someone to write it. Here in New Jersey, when people hire lawyers, they have the right to expect them not only to be competent but also to adhere to the profession’s standards of practice.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Lawyer Letter to Mitt Romney Over Inappropriate Song Use May Have Been Plagiarized,” Aug. 16, 2012
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