Music has the unique ability to energize, inspire and motivate a crowded convention hall and campaign. Political candidates know this. They also know that music is protected by copyright laws. Many politicians simply don’t care.
Just last night, the estate of George Harrison tweeted out, “The unauthorized use of #HereComestheSun at the #RNCinCLE is offensive & against the wishes of the George Harrison estate.”
The day before the Republican National Convention started, the band Queen protested Trumps “unauthorized use” of “We Are the Champions.”
The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, R.E.M. and Neil Young have also demanded that Trump stop playing their music at his rallies. In response, Trump blasted out “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” by the Rolling Stones after his speech Thursday night.
Regardless of your political persuasion, favorite band or song, what’s the deal? Do political campaigns have the right to play songs without the permission of the artist?
My short answer is probably not.
Music is copyrighted, and a proper license is normally required to play a band’s music. If you don’t have permission from the artist or management company, then you may be in volation of An exception might include a politician playing a song from the convention hall’s catalog of licensed music.
Another little know fact is that if a stadium, arena or venue has a public-performance license through ASCAP or BMI (songwriters’ associations), it might be legally OK.
In addition to copyright issues, there’s also a valuable “right of publicity” that an artist may be able to protect. Under this theory, Mick Jagger, of the Rolling Stones may argue his voice being broadcasted at a political convention is part of his image, and only he has the right to benefit from that image. It’s an area of law that is untested by it appears to me artists would be on strong legal grounds should they decide to hold offending political candidates liable.
Other legal arguments bands may assert regardless if the political campaign has acquired a license include violation of the “Lanham Act” (confusion or dilution of a trademark through unauthorized use) and “False Endorsement” (implies that the artist supports a product or candidate).
In my opinion, the best way for political campaigns to acquire the rights to use a particular song or list of songs at a convention is to obtain written permission from the artist or management company via a limited license. This avoids all of the above problems and prevents misunderstands with the community’s perception as to which artist or band supports a particular candidate. It’s also just the right thing to do.