“Pretty Legal” isn’t a term recognised within the legal arena, however that is how New Zealand National Party politician Steven Joyce described the alleged unlawful use of rapper Eminem’s song ‘Lose Yourself’ in a television campaign for the National Party’s political campaign in 2014.
It is little wonder that the response was mocked on the television show “Last Week Tonight” with Comedian John Oliver jesting “Pretty legal? That’s not a concept that exists. That’s like being sort-of dead”.
In 2014 a lawsuit was filed in New Zealand for the unauthorised use of an instrumental version of Eminem’s Grammy and Oscar winning 2002 track “Lose Yourself” during a political campaign for the National Party. Eight Mile Style, LLC and Martin Affiliated, LLC, publishers of Eminem’s copyrights, filed proceedings seeking damages for copyright infringement against the New Zealand National Party, with the quantum of damages unspecified. They state the rapper was neither asked nor gave permission for the use of the song. Joel Martin, speaking on behalf of the publishers stated “the bottom line is we would never have permitted the use of the song in any political advertisement”.
So what laws were supposedly broken? Creating marketing and advertising material is a tricky area of the law, with all rights and licences requiring consent from the appropriate rights holders. If it not obtained accordingly, the copyright of that material is infringed, as alleged in this case.
Concerns regarding the soundtrack for the campaign were raised in National Party emails, being labelled “Eminem-esque” in its sound. Jo De Joux, the campaign manager gave evidence in court, saying that the party had sought and received assurances from music and advertising experts that using “Eminem-Esque” would be acceptable in that and no infringement of copyright would occur because it derived from a licensed music library. However, she admitted that they did not seek legal advice or seek approval from the rapper’s representatives.
Such concerns from the National Party fell on deaf ears as the television campaign was aired 186 times before finally being pulled due to complaints made regarding the alleged infringement.
In May this year, the New Zealand High Court in Wellington heard the case, with Gary Williams (Eight Mile Style’s lawyer) stating in his opening speech that it was a “wrongful use of an iconic piece of music”. The judge and nine lawyers sat with stoic faces as they were played the Eminem song followed by the instrumental version, with Judge Helen Cull stating “I’m not shy of loud music.” whilst requesting the volume was increased.
The case finished this summer, with the outcome predicted as being some months away.