An Alexandria music composer yesterday filed suit against seven Virginia state officials, including Gov. John N. Dalton, claiming a state law that regulates the commercial use of the slogan "Virginia Is for Lovers" is cramping his style.
Ray Elbert Parker wrote the words and music for a song entitled "Virginia Is for Lovers" in 1971, according to papers filed in federal district court in Alexandria.
The composition was copyrighted that year under federal law, the papers said.
But in 1972, the Virginia General Assembly passed a statute making it unlawful for anyone to use the slogan without permission from the Virginia State Travel Service, which had been using it since 1969. The law also says the travel service can demand a royalty fee from the sale of products using the slogan.
Parker, a 52-year-old auditor with the Library of Congress, said yesterday that the state law violates his constitutional rights.
"The state is trying to regulate an area of creativity, which they have no right to do," Parker said. "I decided to sue because I want to market my product without getting arrested. My copyright is covered by federal jurisdiction. They [Virginia officials] have no authority whatsoever."
Parker is asking that the law be declared unconstitutional. He also is seeking $100,000 in damages and $1,000 for each day he is barred from marketing his song.
According to the Virginia State Travel Service, the slogan "Virginia Is for Lovers" was coined by a Richmond advertising agency in 1969. Since then, it has appeared on buttons, bumperstickers, mugs, T-shirts, pins, posters, coasters and placemats.
The motto was "highly successful," Travel Commissioner Marshall E. Murdaugh said yesterday, and has become the best-recognized state slogan in the country.
The purpose of registering the slogan in 1972, Murdaugh said yesterday, was to curb what the agency said was "severe misuse" of the phrase after it appeared on a T-shirt depicting a pregnant woman.
"But to my knowledge," Murdaugh added "we have never turned down or not consented to use of the slogan. Nor have we ever received any payment for it."
Any profits from an unauthorized commercial venture must be paid to the Virginia state treasury, according to the law. The law also carries a fine of up to $1,000.
The travel official said his office has received half a dozen songsheets entitled "Virginia Is for Lovers" from composers anxious to record a potential official state song.
Asked if he would have any objection to Parker's song, Murdaugh said, "It would depend on what the lyrics are."
"Virginia is for lovers only, Virginia, that's a place to be,
"When you give all your love to someone who can make your heart feel like it's young and free,
"Virginia is for lovers only, and lovers everywhere agree,
"Virginia is for love, and lovers make history.
"That's why V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A makes my heart just want to say, Virginia is for lovers only."
In fact, Murdaugh recalled yesterday, Ray Parker met with Virginia travel officials in 1972 to seek agency backing for the recording of his song. But the state travel agency -- which spends $1.4 million annually in advertising -- told Parker there were no available funds.
That year, country-western singer Bobby Abshire sold more than 700,000 copies of a tune by the same name. The lyrics touted the availability of moonshine whiskey, which infuriated conservative officials and led to the state law.
"My rights originate under the Constitution," Parker groused yesterday.
Named as defendants in the suit are Dalton, Murdaugh, Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, speaker of the House John Warren Cook, Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, Secretary of the Commonwealth Frederick Gray and Director of Conservation and Development Fred W. Walker.
Although Murdaught seemed confident yesterday that the state law regulating the use of "Virginia Is For Lovers" is constitutional, one thing bothers him; the parody of the catchy motto by other states, particularly one to the south.
The offending slogan? "Alabama is For Livers."