Bill Murray Faces Copyright Lawsuit from Doobie Brothers

Every time you hear a famous song playing in a commercial, it’s because the producers paid for the right to use that song in their commercial … or at least they were supposed to. According to a recent copyright lawsuit the Doobie Brothers filed against Bill Murray, the famous actor allegedly failed to obtain permission from the band before using one of their hits in a commercial for his clothing line.

Murray, along with his brothers, released a line of golf clothing under the name William Murray. One of his recent commercials promoting the clothing line featured the song, “Listen to the Music”, a hit created by the Doobie Brothers that reached #11 on the Billboard chart in 1972.

The commercial featuring the song was specifically promoting a polo shirt called Zero Hucks Given, which is named after the fictional character, Huckleberry Finn. The clothing line is meant to bring back the loud golfing clothes that were popular in the 1970s, which could be why Murray chose to use a song from the early ‘70s to evoke that time period in his advertisements.

Peter T. Paterno, the attorney representing the Doobie Brothers, sent a letter to Murray notifying him of the lawsuit. Paterno also represents other musicians whose music Murray has allegedly stolen for use in commercials promoting his line of golf wear, although the Doobie Brothers are the only plaintiffs named in this copyright lawsuit.

The letter Paterno sent to Murray concerning the copyright lawsuit covered serious matters but managed to be as light in tone as many of Murray’s movies. In addition to making a comment about the golf polos being ugly, Paterno also made a crack about Murray violating his clients’ copyrights more than anyone else … except our current president.

Paterno is no stranger to copyright lawsuits of this nature. In the years he has spent representing musicians, he has also filed a lawsuit against Joe Walsh, a politician with the Tea Party who successfully ran for Congress using a song from a guitarist who performed solo in addition to performing with the Eagles. That guitarist was also named Joe Walsh.

Although approaching a famous comedian, such as Bill Murray, with a letter full of jokes might seem like a strategy for getting the attention of a performer known for his comedy, Paterno has been no less sarcastic in the letters he has sent to politicians, including Joe Walsh, who are not known for their comedy.

Paterno is also no stranger to Bill Murray. In an email to The New York Times, Paterno described a game of golf in which he was playing with three other people and Bill Murray let the party play through while he waited. In the meantime, the actor rested his head on the tee marker while pretending to take a nap.

Although there has been no word from Murray or his attorneys about the current copyright lawsuit, it’s possible he and/or members of his team assumed the song was in the public domain. Since the song is almost fifty years old, the assumption would not be entirely unreasonable, but it would demonstrate a lack of basic knowledge of copyright laws.

If you’ve been thinking of using someone else’s material in your own content, whether promotional or otherwise, you’ll want to speak to a copyright attorney to make sure the content is in the public domain before you proceed.

At Lubin Austermuehle we can help fight those infringing on your trademarks, whether it’s counterfeiting, infringement in paid search ads, search engine spam, or cybersquatting, we can take rapid, decisive action on your behalf. Whether you’re in Naperville, Lincolnwood, Libertyville, or anywhere else in the Chicagoland area, let us use our years of trademark litigation experience to earn a victory for you. Call today and arrange a FREE consultation where we can discuss your legal needs and our ability to meet (and exceed) them.  Call 630-333-0333 or contact us via our website by clicking here. We look forward to speaking with you.

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