The Agenda Project, the progressive org behind the Mitt Romney skewering Romney Girl video, said that they have received a cease and desist letter from Universal Music, asking them to remove the video from YouTube by Friday.
According to a letter sent by U Music Publishing Group’s Cory Greenwell to Heidi Svenda Bernasconi, the woman identified as playing Romney Girl, the satirical video infringes on the copyright to “Barbie Girl.”
“Please be advised that in the event that you fail to comply with any of our demands made herein, we shall take whatever legal action we deem necessary and appropriate to protect our rights and interests in and to ‘Barbie Girl,’ including, but not limited to, commencing legal action against you,” the letter states.
The Agenda Project Action Fund, which financed the video that has almost 700,000 views on YouTube, plans to remove the video, but they argue that it is fair use.
“We feel very strongly that we are both legally and morally justified in our use of the Barbie Girl song through the ‘fair use’ exception,” said Erica Payne, president of the Action Fund, in a statement. “We are speaking to counsel about this and hope to continue sharing Ms. Bernasconi’s wonderful taxless life with her admirers across the world. However, there is a strong possibility that our lawyers will advise us that despite our legal right to use the the song, we should not risk being attacked by a major multi-national corporation with resources that far exceed our own.
“This is about who has the most money, who has the most political influence, and who has the highest paid lawyers.”
She pointed to the zealousness with which Universal Music has pursued claims. In 2007, a court refused to dismiss a mother’s suit after her 29-second video of her daughter singing Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” was removed.
While fair use has generally covered parody, where it gets murky are in cases where a video is deemed satire. “Romney Girl” mimicked the entirety of “Barbie Girl,” and although there is no hard and fast time length set on what falls into the category of fair use, there is a more recent case that makes a distinction based on what it is that is being satirized. In 2010, Chuck DeVore, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in California, lost his case against Don Henley over two songs that the DeVore campaign used to skewer Barbara Boxer. “Boys of Summer” was made into “Hope of November,” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” recreated as “All She Wants to Do Is Tax.”
The court ruled that since DeVore was not using the music to “comment or criticize” on the originals, he was not entitled to the fair use defense. “Rather, ‘November’ uses those themes and devices to mock a separate subject entirely, namely Obama and his supporters,” the judge wrote.
So that may be why Universal feels that it can issue such a notice, in what many have claimed as just another form of political speech.