Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s reelection campaign appears to be based on a simple message: “Do you want C. Montgomery Burns Representing You in Springfield?” Yes, he means that C. Montgomery Burns. Yesterday, Quinn began a media blitz comparing his opponent (businessman Bruce Rauner) to the Simpsons character. This included the release of an ad on YouTube which reportedly featured images of Rauner juxtaposed with clips from the Simpsons. When the ad was released, the Chicago Sun Times contacted Fox Broadcasting and asked whether Quinn had permission to use the clips. Apparently, he didn’t, because an hour later the ad was disabled and replaced with the message: “This video contains content from Fox, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”
So what is the scope of fair use in political ads? There are certainly many issues at play, including the length of the clips and whether the ad could be considered a parody of the Simpsons. But if a case like this ever got in front of a judge, the real battle ground questions would be whether the purpose and character of the use is transformative, and whether the plaintiff could articulate a cognizable market harm.
If things stay true to form, however, these questions will not be answered any time soon. As we have previously reported here, here, here and here, these cases have a way of dissolving once everyone is done posturing for the press.