CARSON CITY — Republican Rep. Dean Heller’s use of the Broadway classic “Big Spender” in Nevada radio and television ads criticizing his Democratic opponent, Jill Derby, has resulted in a lawsuit filed against him by the estate of the music’s composer, Cy Coleman.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court by the estate, through its Notable Music Co., naming Heller and his media firm, Texas-based Weeks & Co. LLP. That followed a letter from the estate asking Heller to stop using the song in his ads.
Coleman’s widow, Shelby Coleman, has said the estate turned down a request to use “Big Spender” as background music in the ads critical of travel expenses by Derby during her 18 years as a state university system regent, but the ads were produced anyway.
Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee has said the ad is “entirely lawful and its content is protected as political speech and by the ‘fair use’ doctrine of copyright law.”
Bybee also said the song is “an obvious parody,” and there’s “no rational likelihood that any reasonable person would mistake it for the original song or lyrics,” from the 1966 musical “Sweet Charity.”
Derby spokeswoman Kristen Cullen has questioned why a request to use the music was made in the first place if there was no problem in using it without permission.
She also said the ad incorrectly says Derby had nearly $100,000 in travel expenses during her long tenure as a regent, but that’s nearly double what expense records show.
Cullen said the travel budget in the secretary of state’s office, when Heller had the post, was nearly $500,000, adding, “Who’s the big spender?”