Home /Blogs/Political Campaign Use of Popular Songs –What Public Figures Need to Know
September 25, 2015 | From the blogUncategorized

Political Campaign Use of Popular Songs –What Public Figures Need to Know

post image

By: Luke Pontier & Elizabeth Sy

Political candidates often use music on the campaign trail to promote enthusiasm and positive messages in the minds of voters.  Two great examples are Bill Clinton’s use of Fleetwood Mac’s pop song “Don’t Stop” during his campaign, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use of “Happy Days are Here Again” during the Great Depression.

The use of copyrighted music has received a mixture of praise and backlash by the artists.  For example, in 2007, Celine Dion said that she was thrilled by Hillary Clinton’s choice to use her song “You and I.”  On the other hand, Donald Trump has been scolded by multiple artists for using their songs during his campaign, including R.E.M. for Trump’s use of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”  The band’s singer, Michael Stipe responded to Trump by stating, “[D]o not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.”  This comes shortly after Trump was scolded 3 months ago for using Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” in his presidential candidacy announcement.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee played Survivor’s classic song “Eye of the Tiger” during Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis’ release from jail.  Davis recently made headlines for her arrest after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Survivor has now filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against Davis and Huckabee.

Although playing music may help to inspire voters, political candidates and other public figures should use the music within the barriers of copyright law.  In order to steer clear from copyright and other violations, public figures should take these guidelines into consideration:

  1. Determine whether the venues have proper “public performance” licenses.
    1. A “public performance” license allows a venue that is open to the public to play a recording of the artist’s song. Generally, this allows a copyrighted song to be played at an event such as a political campaign rally, if the venue has secured this type of license.
    2. If a campaign is holding events at multiple venues, it may be easier for the campaign itself to obtain a license.
  2. Reach out to the artist, even if the venue has a proper license.
    1. Many states have “Right of Publicity” laws, which provide image and brand protection for artists. This means that each artist has the ability to prevent others from using their image commercially if the artist’s name or image is being used without his or her permission.
    2. Federal law, under the Lanham Act, also covers the unauthorized use of trademarks, such as a band or artist’s name and logo. When a candidate plays an artist’s song at every campaign event, it can imply that the artist supports that particular candidate, creating a false endorsement.  In 2012, K’Naan claimed that Mitt Romney’s use of his song “Wavin’ Flag” tarnished his image by creating a false association between the artist and the presidential candidate and misleading the public into thinking that K’Naan held the same views.  If a candidate continuously uses an artist’s songs on the campaign trail, it may lead the public to believe the artist has endorsed the political candidate, which often times is untrue.  Although difficult to prove, an artist could sue over this false endorsement if he believes it is causing damage to his trademark or brand.

In a time where public image is of the utmost importance, following these guidelines will help protect a political candidate from negative publicity.  To avoid any controversy, political candidates should reach out to the artist’s management team to seek permission to use the artist’s songs on the campaign trail.

Contact an Attorney Today

The experienced attorneys at Romano Law are ready to help. Contact us at 212-865-9848 or complete this form to speak to a member of our team!

Share This