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Beatles Sue Nike Over Use Of Song

July 29, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

The Beatles want to stop the revolution.

Declaring that the legendary rock group doesn't "endorse or peddle sneakers or panty hose," lawyers for the Beatles filed a $15-million lawsuit Tuesday to halt the use of the band's 1968 recording of "Revolution" in a Nike running shoes TV commercial.

Besides asking that the commercial be pulled, the suit filed with the New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan seeks $15 million in damages from Nike, Inc.; the Oregon-based advertising firm of Wieden and Kennedy, and EMI-Capitol Records, which releases the Beatles' music.

"The Beatles didn't create this music or make these recordings (so they could be used) in commercials," said lawyer Leonard Marks, who filed the suit on behalf of Apple Records. "If they wanted to cash in on commercials, they could have done so many times over the past 25 years and . . . they are not about to permit advertisers and a record company to cash in on this now.

"Basically what this lawsuit is is a warning to advertisers and the record company: If you think you can use the Beatles recordings to . . . peddle anything from bras to beer, you're going to be sued."

Speaking by phone from New York, Marks said EMI-Capitol was paid $250,000 by Nike for the rights to the recording. "This is the first time (a Beatles recording) has ever been used to endorse a commercial product (and it was done) without the authorization or permission of the Beatles."

Both Nike and the advertising agency declined to comment on the suit, but a spokesperson for EMI-Capitol challenged Marks' contention that the record company does not have the right to license recordings for commercials.

"There's no question that we have the legal right to license Beatles songs," said Sue Satriano, vice president of public relations for EMI Music. "In this case, we were very concerned about how the recording would be used. We even viewed the commercial prior to its being aired to make sure that it did not imply a Beatles endorsement. Our general impression is that the commercial has been well received."

Tuesday's lawsuit is the latest step in a bitter financial struggle initiated in 1979 when Apple attorney Marks filed a $50-million breach-of-contract suit against EMI-Capitol Records alleging the Beatles had been cheated out of album royalties between 1969 and 1979.

With that case still pending, Marks filed a second $40-million suit in New York last week, accusing EMI of cheating the Beatles out of royalties from compact disc sales.

In all three suits, Marks is asking that control of the Beatles master recordings--and the rights to issue them--be returned to Apple, the firm formed by the Beatles. Under such a stipulation, EMI would not be able to release any more Beatles records.

The latest suit does not name Michael Jackson, who owns publishing rights to "Revolution" and other Lennon-McCartney songs, making the focus of the suit the use of the "original sound recording of the Beatles."

Kevin Brown, director of corporate communications for Nike, declined to comment on the suit, though he said response to the commercial has been "generally positive" since the TV campaign was initiated in mid-March.

But he said the company has received some letters--no more than 30 to 35--from "people who think it is not correct to use a Beatles song in advertising" plus a "couple of disgruntled responses from people who just don't like rock 'n' roll music."

Presumably, Nike could have sidestepped the suit by having other musicians re-record "Revolution" for the commercial, but Brown said the company rejected that alternative because it didn't believe the move would be "intellectually honest."

Indeed, legal questions have been raised over sound-alike recordings used in several recent commercials. Bette Midler filed a $10-million suit last year against Ford Motor Co. for using a sound-alike version of "Do You Want to Dance," a song she had recorded, in a commercial.

Though he said Ford acted like a "common thief," a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles dismissed that suit July 13 on the grounds that Midler wasn't legally entitled to collect damages from the company or its advertising agency. Midler's attorney said the case would be appealed.

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