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John Oliver’s Show Wants USCIS Records on Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”

Pictured: John Oliver from “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” speaks on stage during the HBO portion of the 2018 Summer TCA Press Tour.

Preparations for a great late-night segment have begun, as the production company behind that of John Oliver show filed a federal complaint against the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for “illegally” refusing to provide documents about the agency’s multi-year use. Lee greenwood God bless the USA

Partially Important Productions, the company that produces the HBO show Last week tonight with John Oliver, sued USCIS on Friday August 13 for allegedly violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to the complaint, the production company filed a FOIA request in January 2020 for documents related to the settlement of a dispute over a possible copyright infringement of the song. The complaint says USCIS has still not provided any documentation.

The complaint describes a situation fraught with irony: “USCIS played [a video] for many years during naturalization ceremonies across the country [and] used, without permission, the song by Mr. Greenwood, God bless the USA as part of the soundtrack of the video. The unauthorized use of the song by the government then led to “costly settlement negotiations” between the DOJ and Greenwood.

In the complaint, the complainant production company refers to a lengthy report titled “The Role of Intellectual Property in the Homeland Security of the United States,” produced by a government contractor. This report, linked here, explains that Greenwood had performed at a naturalization ceremony where, coincidentally, a staff member noticed a video of Greenwood singing God bless the USA has been used. The staff member “later found out that USCIS had not obtained the rights of use.”

Representatives from Greenwood and USCIS then went directly to settlement negotiations “on the basis of [the agency’s] many years of copyright infringement. The report further allows that “[t]its infringement was not intentional, as no lawyer or other person with expertise in intellectual property has ever examined it. “

The report goes on to describe what is at stake when the Greenwood song is played without permission for thousands of newly registered US citizens. First, the government’s failure to examine the public documents distributed to the nearly 2,000 immigrants a day who are naturalized is simply a bad look for the United States; describing this type of error as “embarrassing”, the report says that it “can be detrimental to the public image of the agency”. Besides, “[t]The fact that one of DHS’s key missions, through ICE, to investigate and prosecute intellectual property theft only exacerbates these negative impacts.

However, there is more than bad PR at stake.

In addition, the report continues, copyright infringement entails financial risk through settlement actions, enforcement actions and costly litigation that can be brought against an infringing agency.

These effects of government neglect, embarrassing as they may be, are precisely why John Oliver’s show is interested. From the complaint, the complaining production company explains that it “seeks to shed public light on USCIS ‘taxpayer-funded settlement with Mr. Greenwood for alleged copyright infringement.” The complaint then gives the court some information about the show:

Each episode of Last week tonight comments on recent current events and takes a ‘deep dive’ into a complex or under-reported socio-political topic, such as the death penalty, net neutrality, confiscation of civilian assets, payday loans, Mueller report, Brexit and corruption in state legislatures. Last week tonight coverage of some issues led to concrete effects and policy changes.

The company is asking the court to order USCIS to respond to the nearly two-year-old document request and award attorney fees for the alleged violation of FOIA by USCIS.

Lawyers for Partially Important Productions and USCIS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

[image via Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]

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