Eagles vocalist-drummer Don Henley recently said some strong words against Frank Ocean over the latter’s song “American Wedding,” which samples “Hotel California,” and indie rockers Okkervil River, who wanted to remake one of his solo hits. In 2012, Ocean used the entire Eagles hit as background music to sing his his own lyrics, though Henley refused to grant a license to the song. “I was not impressed [with it],” the Eagle told Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph. “He needs to come up with his own ideas and stop stealing stuff from already established works.”
When the song appeared online, Ocean claimed that Henley and his bandmates threatened legal action, writing on his Tumblr that the band had asked him to stop performing the song live. “They also asked that I release a statement expressing my admiration for Mr. Henley, along with my assistance pulling it off the web as much as possible,” he wrote.
“Mr. Ocean doesn’t seem to understand U.S. copyright law,” Henley told the Telegraph. “Anyone who knows anything should know you cannot take a master track of a recording and write another song over the top of it. You just can’t do that. You can call it a tribute or whatever you want to call it, but it’s against the law. That’s a problem with some of the younger generation. They don’t understand the concept of intellectual property and copyright.”
He went on to describe Ocean as “quite arrogant” about copyright law and explained the legal course of action Eagles had taken a few years back, confirming that they had indeed threatened legal action. “We tried to approach him calmly to talk reason to him via his managers and his attorneys and he wouldn’t listen,” Henley said. “So finally we threatened to bring legal action against him. He was clearly in the wrong.”
In addition to condemning Ocean, Henley explained why he prevented Okkervil River from recording his solo song “The End of Innocence” and releasing it online for free. Although that group’s frontman, Will Sheff, had previously claimed Henley had objected over money issues, the Eagle told the Telegraph it was because the group had changed his lyrics.
“They don’t understand the law either,” Henley said. “You can’t rewrite the lyrics to somebody else’s songs and record it and put it on the Internet. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t an improvement. We were not impressed. So we simply had our legal team tell them to take it down and they got all huffy about it.” Furthermore, Henley wondered how they would feel if he turned the tables on them and recorded an Okkervil River song with his own lyrics. “Maybe they wouldn’t care, but I care,” he said. “We work really, really hard on our material. We spend months writing it and years recording it. You don’t go into a museum and paint a moustache on somebody else’s painting. Nobody would think of doing that.” He summed things up by saying, “If you respect somebody, you ask their permission to diddle around with their work – you don’t just go and do it.”
United States copyright law allows anyone to record a cover of any song without asking permission, so long as the musician does not alter the original. Henley told the Telegraph he was perfectly fine with that aspect of the law, but “that’s not what Mr. Ocean nor Okkervil River did.”