Joe Walsh vs. Joe Walsh: The rock star wrestles with the congressional candidate
America's fiery hordes of Tea Party conservatives seem to have the hapless Democratic Party on the run, but one right-wing congressional candidate in Illinois may have met his match this week when he was caught appropriating (or should we say misappropriating) the music of one of the Eagles. The wonderfully comic tale, ably reported by the Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner, has all the ingredients of a classic Preston Sturges political satire, starting with the fact that the Tea Party candidate and his Eagles adversary are both named Joe Walsh.
It turns out that Walsh (the tea bagger) has been promoting his campaign with a music video, "Lead the Way," which not only mimics Eagles guitarist Walsh's voice but the chord progressions from "Walk Away," a 1971 pre-Eagles hit Walsh had with the James Gang that has been a staple for years on classic rock radio. Walsh (the tea bagger) is one of six GOP hopefuls in a Feb. 2 primary in the 8th Illinois congressional district. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean in November, which is why Walsh's political ditty includes such sophisticated lyrics as: "Pelosi and Bean wanna' screw ya."
Walsh's attorney, Peter Paterno, a leading music industry lawyer who's never been one to mince words, has sent a hilariously acerbic letter to candidate Walsh, demanding that he quit using the song, saying he is violating the nation's intellectual property laws. Here are some excerpts from the letter, which I think proves that there are still some lawyers who could easily have a second career writing material for "The Daily Show." Paterno writes:
"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."
Paterno proceeds to lay out his case, citing 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 of the song. As far as we can tell, you didn't do that. Maybe you got so busy with the campaign that you just forgot."). Paterno also notes that the copyright act prevents people from changing the lyrics to someone else's song. He adds:
"This is not to say you're not allowed to write silly lyrics, you just have to write them to your own music. 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."
As a kicker, Paterno reminds his adversary that he could also be violating the trademark laws that protect the public from any confusion about exactly who is endorsing particular goods or services. As he puts it: "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. Or maybe you intended that. But you shouldn't have."
Cynics may argue that all this publicity, no matter how embarrassing, will only help candidate Joe Walsh's cause. But in this case, I'd argue that there is such a thing as bad publicity. If you want to see just how unbelievably liberally (no pun intended!) Walsh borrows from Walsh, watch his campaign video for yourself:
Photo: Joe Walsh (the Eagle, not the tea bagger). Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.