Photo Source: williammurraygolf.com
Bill Murray has long been a fixture in the golf community, from his iconic roll as the eccentric greens keeper in the classic Caddie Shack to his always entertaining rounds at the celebrity pro-am tournaments. Recently he has entered the world of golf apparel, launching William Murray Golf in 2017. His company is about “infusing the game with energy and a little irreverence, while still respecting the game.” The company has been in the spotlight lately, not for its unique approach to golf fashion, but for using a song to promote its shirts without paying for it.
The song is Listen to the Music by the Doobie Brothers and William Murray Golf was using it to promote a shirt they call Zero Hucks Given. The controversy itself may not have been headline grabbing in this tumultuous news cycle we are living through, if not for some clever lawyering. The Doobie Brothers lawyer, Peter Paterno, sent Mr. Murray a cease and desist letter which was far from conventional. In the letter Mr. Paterno calls the shirts ugly and suggests they change the name to “Zero Bucks Given.” He also says he is too lazy to cite the applicable section of the Unites States Copyright Act and that Mr. Murray already knows you can’t use music in ads without paying the artist.
Mr. Murray’s attorney, Alexander Yoffe, wrote an equally light-hearted response. In it he applauds Mr. Paterno’s ability to find levity in the law, especially considering all that is going on in the world. He incorporates multiple Doobie Brother song titles, and he mentions the recent release of a Doobie Brothers box set, as well as the band’s 50th anniversary tour next year. Mr. Yoffe concludes by offering to send Mr. Paterno and the band shirts that he finds the “least offensive” in the catalogue.
It seems likely that the licensing issue at the core of this dispute will be resolved without the need to get the courts involved. Even though it was never really addressed in the response by Mr. Yoffe–unless you count the offer to supply free shirts as compensation for the use of the song. The decision to make these letters public, and to write them in the way they did, has created quite the buzz for everyone involved. The Doobie Brothers are getting press at a remarkably convenient time, William Murray Golf has undoubtedly reached a larger market, and both law firms have made a splash. While we will have to see how the copyright feud plays out, it seems for now all parties have benefited in way of increased publicity.
These letters have nothing on the letter Groucho Marx sent to Jack Warner in the 1940s when the Marx Brothers were about to make A Night in Casablanca.