Browne Says McCain Camp's Apology Was Key to Settlement

August 17, 2009 1:34 PM ET

Last month Jackson Browne settled his lawsuit against John McCain, the Ohio Republican Party and the National Republican Committee for using his 1977 hit "Running on Empty" in an online campaign commercial. In addition to an undisclosed amount of money, Browne also received a public apology. "Senator McCain does not support or condone any actions taken by anyone involved in his 2008 presidential election campaign that were inconsistent with artists' rights or the various legal protections afforded to intellectual property," the statement reads. "The ORP, RNC and Senator McCain pledge in future election campaigns to respect and uphold the rights of artists and to obtain permissions and/or licenses for copyrighted works where appropriate."

Browne hopes their pledge is sincere. "I wanted a clear message from them that it had been a mistake and they weren't going to do it again," he tells Rolling Stone. "The only other way would be to pursue the case further to punish them and try and have as big a judgment as possible. We didn't think that was as important as having them say they were wrong and it was a mistake. I think we did the right thing and they won't do this again. That's what it's been about from the very beginning." His attorney Lawrence Iser hopes this settlement will insure that future politicians respect copyright law. "It's important for someone running for president of the United States, someone who is a senator, to set an example," Iser says. "I hope it sets an example, and I hope it serves to educate people."

Lincoln Bandlow, John McCain's lawyer, maintains that the McCain's campaign use of "Running on Empty" was consistent with fair use laws, and that no precedent has been set by the settlement. "Cases settle for a variety of reasons," he says. "The fact that this case settled isn't a precedent for anything in the future. For a precedent of any kind you need a published opinion of some sort that says 'This is right and this is wrong.' We don't have that."

Would Browne have pursued the case if Obama had used the song in a campaign ad? "That's a fair question," Browne says. "It is conceivable, but the fact is that Obama doesn't need to usurp people's songs. I honestly think that had Obama wanted to use a song of mine, and he asked, I would have given him permission."

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