Byrne is seeking $1 million in damages from Gov. Charlie Crist, who's also Florida's former Attorney General, and his senatorial campaign for use of the song earlier this year in a website and YouTube ad attacking his then-Republican primary opponent, Marco Rubio. Crist has since changed his campaign and is running as an independent candidate.
The suit (Case Number 8:10-CV1187-T26 (MAP)) was filed early Monday afternoon in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.
Byrne tells Billboard.com that he became aware of the Crist ad from a friend in New York, where the Talking Heads co-founder resides. "I was pretty upset by that," says Byrne, who had Warner Bros. Records contact the Crist campaign, which subsequently stopped using the ad. But, Byrne contends, "in my opinion the damage had already been done by it being out there. People that I knew had seen (the ad), so it had gotten around. The suit, he adds, "is not about politics...It's about copyright and about the fact that it does imply that I would have licensed it and endorsed him and whatever he stands for."
"Road to Nowhere" appeared on Talking Heads' 1985 album "Little Creatures." It reached No. 25 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks and was nominated for Best Video of the Year at the 1986 MTV Music Video Awards. It also appears in several films, including "Reality Bites" and "Religulous." None of the other Talking Heads members are involved in the suit.
Byrne's attorney Lawrence Iser -- who also represented Jackson Browne in his successful suit against 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain's illegal use of his song "Running on Empty" -- says that the Crist campaign did not obtain either a synchronization license required to use Byrne's composition or a master use license for the Talking Heads' recording. The ad also violates the Lanham Act of the U.S. Trade Statue, implying a false endorsement of Crist by Byrne.
"I was fairly astonished that this soon after the settlement of Browne vs. McCain, yet another politician with national aspirations is doing this again," Iser says. "We just a year ago settled Browne vs. McCain, and the defendants there -- including the Repbulican National Party -- made a pledge...they would respect artists rights and license copyrighted works. To have it happen again in January is fairly shocking. They can't say, 'We didn't know that you have to get a license to use songs in commercials.'...They absolutely did know."
Iser says the $1 million damages claim is based on previous offers Byrne has received for use of his songs in commercials.
Iser says he's not sure how long the Byrne case will take to resolve. Browne vs. McCain took about nine months.
Byrne isn't the only musician to have a song involved in Florida's hotly contested senatorial campaign. Rubio used the Steve Miller Band's 1976 hit "Take the Money and Run" for a YouTube ad attacking Crist. Miller issued a statement saying that, "The Steve Miller Band and Steve Miller do not endorse Marco Rubio's campaign or any political candidates and respectfully request that Mr. Rubio learn more about publishing law and intellectual property rights. I also ask that in the future he extends me the courtesy of asking permission before using my songs." The ad was subsequently stopped, and a spokeswoman for Miller says the matter has been settled to his satisfaction.