He released the song more than two decades ago, but Jackson Browne's life has been full of "Running on Empty" for the past 11 months.
Last week the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter announced a settlement of his lawsuit against U.S. Sen. John McCain (R.-Arizona) and the Republican Party over the unauthorized use of his 1977 hit during the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign. The deal included an undisclosed amount of money, as well as an apology from McCain, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio Republican Party, and a pledge by the defendants "to respect and uphold the rights of artists and to obtain permissions and/or licenses for copyrighted works where appropriate."
In other words, they won't do it again without asking.
"I'm really happy that we got this statement from them," says Browne, 60, who's currently on tour promoting 2008's "Time the Conqueror," his first album of new material in six years. "It's great to have it affirmed that these (copyright and usage) laws stand.
"I've had an idea of how my songs are protected and how money is collected and how making a living as a musician works for my whole career, and it's great to have it affirmed and to know that we're absolutely right in standing up to them."
The case stemmed from an ad using "Running on Empty" that was aired on TV and the Internet in Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania. Browne, a noted supporter of more liberal causes and politicians, says he "started getting calls and e.mails from all over the place...saying 'Are you supporting McCain?' or 'Are you aware of the fact they're using your song?' "
Investigating the situation and then consulting attorneys -- and getting no real satisfaction from asking the Republican camp to cease and desist -- Jackson and his management decided that the lawsuit was the only way to not only stop he ad but also make a larger point.
"It's pretty open and shut," Browne explains. "They can't use your music without your permission, and it's pretty hard to imagine and senator or anybody in a political campaign not knowing that. The law is so well pronounced...They use your song without asking and you have to make them pay for it."
Browne's attorney, Lawrence Y. Iser, says that for the McCain campaign to use "Running on Empty" in the 2008 spot -- which was aired in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- it would have had to obtain two licenses, one from Browne for the song and another for the recording from the Warner Music Group, whose Asylum Records released "Running On Empty." "They sought neither," says Iser, "nor did they even seek permission."
In the statement announcing the settlement, McCain, the RNC and ORP apologized for using "Running On Empty" in the ad and said that McCain himself "had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the creation or distribution of the video" and "does not support or condone any actions taken by anyone involved in his 2008 presidential election campaign that were inconsistent with artists' rights or the various legal protections afforded to intellectual property."
Iser acknowledges that McCain "has had an excellent record in terms of copyright legislation in the Senate" and felt the situation was clearly "a mistake that was made during his campaign, and it's entirely appropriate that he be apologizing for it, as well as the Republican National Committee." And while the settlement is not necessarily a binding ruling that sets direct legal precedent, the attorney says he and Browne are hopeful the music industry will be able to use the case "as an educational effort" to generate greater awareness of copyright laws.
"I certainly hope that the fact that these issues were raised and that the judgment was in our favor will give people who are intending to (use music without permission) pause and caution," said Browne, who's previously sued others for using his songs, particularly "Running On Empty," in advertisements. "I hope that it will be a cautionary case where people will say, 'We better not. They'll sue you...'
"But in a very broad sense I really hope that people begin to understand what goes into making music. It's not just that one gets paid; it's that one's entire enterprise is fed, whether it's recording studios or the amount of money you can pay our band...It is a huge industry."
With the suit settled, the German-born, California-raised Browne can return to his creative pursuits -- including the continuing promotion of "Time the Conqueror." Though its his first set of all-new songs since "The Naked Ride Home" in 2002, Browne notes that it's not like he hasn't been working during that time.
"I made three albums since my last studio album," Browne says, referencing a pair of "Acoustic Live" albums and a collaboration with Fred Martin & the Levite Camp on 2006's "Some Bridges." There was also a 2004 compilation "The Very Best of Jackson Browne."
"For me it's pretty steady, continuous work. And I'm kind of playing continuously, even though it's not necessarily a national tour or a publicity campaign. I'm just playing all the time."
"Time the Conqueror" began "in the middle of those six years," says Browne, who issued the album on his own Inside Recordings label. He road-tested some of the songs, including the title track and "Just Say Yeah," during his acoustic tour, while others were inspired by sound check jams. Browne even started "The Drums of War," one of several politically minded tracks on the album, during the early days of the Iraq invasion in 2004.
"I was shocked when I was looking for the original version of a song I was working on and said 'Let's go back and hear how we did it originally,' and it was on a disc that said 2005.
"And I went, 'Ooooh...it has been a long time, hasn't it?" he adds with a laugh.
Having his own label now, however, means Browne may be motivated to release more music on a quicker schedule.
"I'm not sure what it would be like to be the other (major label) way anymore because the way in which the music business has changed and sort of been denigrated," Browne explains.
"I think it's perfectly good for music that the record companies are sort of in decline and the ones that are doing the more interesting things are small independent labels that are run by music lovers, people who really do it for passionate, personal, musically ideological reasons. That can only serve the music as well as the musicians and the fans."
Jackson Browne performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday (July 27) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills. Tickets are $35 pavilion, $20 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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