Television advertisements during the Superbowl reach one of the largest audiences in the world, so it’s not surprising that they generate controversy. Superbowl XLIV was no exception, as alternative rock duo, The White Stripes, threatened legal action over the backing track used in a recruitment commercial for the US Air Force Reserve. The band claimed that without their permission, the “Grab Some Air” advertising campaign used an instrumental version of their song “Fell In Love With A Girl”, including the main riff from the song. The band also objected to the implication that they endorsed the recruitment and current deployment of US forces.
The Air Force Reserve stated that Salt Lake City based production company, Fast Forward Music, was contracted to create an original soundtrack for the advertisement, and freelance musician, Kem Kraft, had been paid to create three possible scores for the campaign. Kraft claims that after one of his pieces was selected by Fast Forward Music, he was told to ‘beef it up, make the drums stronger and put on an echo guitar’. The Air Force Reserve, Fast Forward Music and Kem Kraft all claimed there was no intentional similarity between the final version chosen and the White Stripes song. Kraft further claimed that even though he had heard of the band, he had never heard “Fell in Love with a Girl.” The band has since received an apology, and the US Military has obligingly removed the advertisement from it’s websites.
The case involving the unintentional use of an arguably significant riff from an earlier work, can be contrasted to the recent proceedings in Australia between the band “Men at Work” and Larrikin Music Publishing, as noted in our earlier post. In the latter case, the Australian Federal Court was satisfied that Men at Work had deliberately used two bars from “Kookaburra” in the hook of “Land Down Under”, and that this constituted a “substantial part” of the original song by Marion Sinclair. This was despite the similarity not having been recognised for many years. This finding followed expert opinion that the flute riffs were “identical”, and evidence being lead of the video clip for “Land Down under” which featured band member Greg Ham playing the riff while sitting in a gum tree. In contrast, despite the use of the White Stripes riff allegedly resulting from innocent similarity, or at most, unconscious copying, the would be infringers were content to remove the advertisement without any judicial consideration.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time a US Military recruitment campaign has caused a stir. In 1979, The Village People’s hit song “In the Navy” was used in a recruitment drive until protests forced its withdrawal.