The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Do You Believe in Fair-Use Miracles? Yes!


From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Do You Believe in Copyright Infringement?

Among sportscasters, there is a joke that if you listen carefully to Al Michaels’s famous call in the 1980 Olympic Hockey Championship, “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?,” you can hear Marv Albert responding, “YES!”

Anyway, we can’t begrudge hockey fan Tim Pawlenty for trying to invoke some of that plucky underdog spirit, but apparently he might have a bit of legal trouble over his newest ad:

ABC Sports may slap presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty with a cease-and-desist letter for improperly using its footage in a political advertisement, a company official told The Des Moines Register today.

“It’s a violation of our copyright and exclusive proprietary rights,” said Louise Argianas, director of rights and clearances for ABC Sports.

The struggling Pawlenty campaign launched “The American Comeback,” a television commercial with a down-but-not-out theme, in Iowa on Wednesday.

The 30-second spot uses TV footage from the so-called “Miracle on Ice,” the hockey game in which the U.S. team beat the supposedly invincible Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Argianas said in a telephone interview that ABC Sports retains exclusive U.S. rights to that footage. She said she was upset when she saw Pawlenty’s ad for the first time this afternoon.

“And they used our announcer’s voice, which they are not allowed to do, either,” she said, referring to play-by-play announcer Al Michaels. “Which I’m going to have to call his agent about.”

Argianas initially said she intended to have a lawyer send the cease-and-desist letter Friday. But tonight, officials at ESPN, which oversees ABC Sports, walked back that statement saying that, after a larger conversation, they’re undecided about whether to send such a letter.

ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca said: “Neither ABC nor ESPN has asked the Pawlenty campaign to remove any footage from their video, although neither ABC nor ESPN licensed the video to them or authorized its use.”

Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant defended the use of the footage, part of a much-revered piece of sports history.

“The campaign’s ‘Miracle on Ice’ advertisement was carefully reviewed for legal compliance, and we believe fully complies with the ‘fair use’ doctrine,” Conant said. “We respect ABC’s concern and look forward to responding to their inquiry.”

ABC Sports added that Pawlenty was free to use as much Howard Cosell footage as he liked. (I’m kidding.)

Of course, the controversy means the ad might get even more attention, being played in newscasts, etc.

Jazz Shaw wonders whether this is really the metaphor Pawlenty wants to use, anyway: “Curious is certainly a word I’d use as well. While the ad is very slick and professional with some solid themes, the entire idea of the “Miracle on Ice” always summons up images of a victory by somebody who isn’t really being given any sort of shot at winning. I generally expect to see a bit more projected confidence (genuine or not) from candidates who feel they are in serious contention. There’s still a long road ahead before the first primary votes are cast, but T-Paw seems to have already begun portraying his own campaign as The Mighty Ducks in this race. Then again, unless he can make a very strong showing in the Ames straw poll, perhaps he’s just being a realist.”

Tags: Tim Pawlenty


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