Art Of The Heist: Why Did Audi Cop Chrysler's Eminem Super Bowl Ad?

Hip-Hop star is suing Audi in a German court

Some say copying is the highest form of flattery. If that's the case, German automaker Audi must really admire Chrysler.

The German luxury company, part of the Volkswagen Group, is being sued in German court by rap music star Eminem and his music company Eight Mile Style for infringing on his song "Lose Yourself, " which is the basis of Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" ad campaign launched during last February's Super Bowl.

Worse than copping the music in an unauthorized way, though, Audi and the ad agency it worked with in Germany, lifted the whole idea behind Chrysler's ad, which caused a sensation when it broke. Chrysler spent millions advertising an unprecedented two-minute ad during the Super Bowl. In the weeks after the game, the ad got 10 million views on video-sharing website YouTube.

The Audi version of the ad, which obviously borrows heavily from the Chrysler work, is for the new A6 Avant. Audi North America, which also advertised in the Super Bowl, had nothing to do with the German ad, which was shown at an event in Germany last month and posted to YouTube. Audi's U.S. ad agency, San Francisco-based Venables Bell and Partners did not produce the ad.

A spokesman for Audi of America referred inquiries to parent company Audi AG in Ingolstadt, Germany, but a spokesman there had not responded to an email from AOL Autos by press-time.

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One man's copying is another man's parody or homage

Copying goes on all the time in advertising and film. Sometimes the effort is an homage or parody of a film. In the Super Bowl, Volkswagen scored big with the public with an ad that showed a child in a Darth Vader outfit, a nod to the Star Wars films. Sometimes companies parody their competitors ads to make a point. Nissan at one time parodied Lexus ads for to push its Altima sedan.

There are also instances, which often end up in a courtroom, in which companies and ad agencies cannot get the rights to an iconic piece of music or film they want. They then hire a production firm to write a piece that is very close to the music, and then take their chances with litigation. The practice is more common outside the U.S. where copyright laws aren't as specific.

And sometimes, ad agencies and their clients simply lift another company's idea, especially if it is going to only run in another international market or during an event, which seems to be the case with the Audi heist. But the global nature of the Internet, and YouTube in particular, means there is no such thing as a "local" ad any longer.

"This is an awful instance of people being either blind, naive, incredibly lazy, or all three at once" says Los Angeles-based marketing consultant Dennis Keene. "For a luxury brand like Audi, which is on a roll, and trying to separate itself from Mercedes and BMW, to do something so cheesy and low-rent as this makes no sense."

"It's stunning," Eight Mile Style manager Joel Martin who manages Eminem's music catalog, told the Detroit Free Press. "What makes it extraordinary is the similarity to the way Chrysler is using (the song). We saw it and said, 'This has got to be a joke.'" Eight Mile Style filed its lawsuit in a Hamburg, Germany court.

Before agreeing to license its "Lose Yourself" song to Chrysler earlier this year, Eminem, a native of Detroit, had not licensed it before, and had turn down numerous requests over the years. The decision to let Chrysler use it was, in part, an effort to boost the image of Detroit in Chrysler's ad campaign.

Chrysler is not party to the suit, but officials are aware of the Audi ad.

"Apparently someone believes that the definition of copyright laws is the right to copy others' materials," said Gualberto Ranieri, a Chrysler Group spokesperson.

Ironically, Audi in 2005 ran a successful online "alternate reality" game called "Art of the Heist." Indeed, heisting music and others' ideas happens all the time in advertising circles.

European companies are known for heisting music

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In what is considered a landmark case in advertising law, Levi's in 1993 used Screamin' Jay Hawkins' version of Tom Waits' "Heart Attack and Vine" in a commercial without getting Waits' release. Waits sued, and Levi's agreed to cease all use of the song and offered a full page apology in music trade magazine Billboard. In 2005, GM's Opel division tied unsuccessfully to get a Waits tune for a song and then hired a Tom Waits sound-alike to record music for the ad. Waits sued GM and its ad agency McCann-Erickson.

Ironically, Waits, known for pressing every instance where he sees his music being used improperly, chased after Audi in 2000 over a violation. The German automaker' approached his representatives about using his "Innocent When You Dream," for a broadcast in Spain. Waits declined, but the company commissioned music very similar to Wait's piece. Waits sued
and a Spanish court recognized that there had been a violation of Waits's rights in addition to the infringement of copyright.

Politicians like Palin frequently heist

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, The McCain-Palin organization was piping "Barracuda," the classic rock song by Heart into the halls where Sarah Palin was speaking. Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, and their publishing arm Universal Music Publishing and Sony BMG sent a cease-and-desist order to the campaign claiming a violation of fair use, which it was.

One of the most common defenses of using another's work is parody, which is often considered fair use of copyrighted material. That's the case in U.S. courts. In a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1993, the rap group 2 Live Crew was successful in defending their parody of the Roy Orbison classic, "Pretty Woman."

German and other European courts have different case law.

Audi is expected to defend use of the Eminem music "sound-alike" music and the heist of the Chrysler ad concept on terms that it was not an ad, but used at an event to launch the car. Even though the film got distributed on YouTube, the company is expected to claim it's not an ad. It could also simply agree to a cease-and-desist order and pay a settlement to Eminem's publishing company.

But the German luxury car company has yet to explain why it heisted another car company's idea in the first place.

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