Attorneys representing the Doobie Brothers and Bill Murray have gently needled each other over William Murray Golf using the Doobie Brothers’ famous song, “Listen to the Music,” without paying the band.
But underneath their ribbing is a potential legal claim for copyright infringement.
Last week, the band’s attorney, Peter Paterno, sent a publicly circulated letter to the apparel company noting that it hasn’t paid to use the song in ads for a particular line of golf shirt, Zero Hucks Given. Paterno suggested that perhaps the company, which Murray launched with his brothers a few years ago and which pays homage to the actor’s classic film Caddyshack, should change its name to Zero Bucks Given.
In response, the company tweeted an image of a letter from its attorney, Alexander Yoffe, who thanked Paterno for “Takin’ It to the Streets” rather than to the courts. However, he also opined that the band “was not harmed under these circumstances.” Yoffe added that the company would send the band complimentary golf shirts if members sent over their shirt sizes.
Copyright law, however, indicates the Doobie Brothers are damaged by unauthorized use of the song in a commercial.
“Murray’s lawyer,” copyright law expert Ryan Vacca says, “is wrong about the band not being harmed. The band has lost out on licensing revenue that is nearly always paid when a song is used in a commercial.”
Vacca, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law who has written extensively on the music industry, contends, “The Doobie Brothers are correct as a matter of copyright law and would win if they pushed forward.”
Although one does not need to register a song or other creative work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to secure a copyright, Sportico has confirmed that the Doobie Brothers did register their song. Registration serves as official notice of ownership in the public record. It also facilitates the bringing of infringement litigation and, in successful cases, can lead to higher monetary damages. While the Doobie Brothers might not “take it to the courts,” if they do, the band could seek compensation for lost royalties.
To that point, Vacca notes, “Even if the band wasn’t harmed by Murray’s use, it could still recover a portion of the profits Murray earned from sales of the shirts or statutory damages, which could amount to several thousand dollars.”
Chances are the band and Murray will work out a solution without resorting to litigation. But it might take more than a pile of shirts.