Last week, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors, arguing that the company used his song “I’m Yours” in an Instagram post promoting Coors Light without his consent. The post featured 13 seconds of Mraz performing the song with Coors Lite branding visible in the video. The caption read: “Kicking off summer with the World’s Most Refreshing Beer at the Beach Life Festival.”
Mraz alleges that MillerCoors did not seek his permission, and that he wouldn’t have given it anyway. “Due to the family friendly nature of the song, Mraz has never licensed the composition for use by alcohol companies or other adult-oriented products and would never do so.” According to the complaint, the unauthorized use violates Mraz’s copyrights and right of publicity, among other things.
MillerCoors removed the ad from Instagram, but a spokesperson insists the company didn’t do anything wrong. “MillerCoors contracted the rights to the BeachLife Festival and video assets through the event’s promoter, so if they truly feel there has been a violation here, we are not the party they should be suing.”
It’s too early to tell how this will turn out, and the case is likely to settle, so we may never have a clear answer. But it does illustrate an issue that commonly comes up with sponsorship agreements. Just because you’ve paid to sponsor a festival or other event doesn’t necessarily mean you have the rights to use footage captured at that event. You may need to secure those rights separately (and sometimes from another party). If you get those rights from the event organizer, make sure you have provisions in the agreement to help protect you against suits like this.
Update: In May 2020, the parties announced that they would settle the case.