Welcome to the Jungle

Music is a powerful force in life. Not only is it a dominant art form, a form of entertainment that goes back to the beginnings of human history, it has also been used as a form of communication. The reason it is so effective as a communication tool is because it drives emotions and it is emotions that play a large part in our decision making process. 

Wherever you encounter a form of sales or commercialism of a product you are bound to find some kind of catchy music attached. There is a long history of branding campaigns that have become successful mainly because of the emotion and message communicated through the music. 

We make decisions everyday but some decisions have a greater impact than others. One of the most powerful decisions you make as a citizen is your power to vote. For this reason music has been an integral part of political campaigns and elections for years. The problem is that quite often the politicians prefer to choose music that conveys their message by just using popular music that has already created an impact in order to play it safe. The music is more often than not used without the consent or knowledge of the copyright holder. When they do this they ironically disregard copyright law (a law they are supposed to be upholding).

The true artist creates for the sake of creation. The work is the focal point. This is why whenever you find a piece of music or artistic expression used for any other purpose other than that for what it was conceived, a work of art, the artist becomes incensed. The artist knows that there is a danger that the use of their work for commercial purposes can forever change the association of that music with the listening public. 

Rihanna recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to Donald Trump, with the Anti singer deploying legal action after her “Don’t Stop the Music” was played at the president’s rally Sunday in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Trump is also experiencing a backlash from the likes of Axel Rose for his use of Sweet Child o’ Mine. Over the weekend, the controversial Guns N’ Roses frontman complained on Twitter that Trump had used the hit against the band’s wishes. He explained that a legal loophole allowed the president, whose administration he referred to as “s***bags,” to do it.

This is not isolated to the midterm elections or the Trump campaigns. The unlawful use of the popular song goes back much further. 

When Independent billionaire Ross Perot ran in 1992 in a three way race against Bill Clinton and George H. Bush. He was one of the most unconventional presidential candidates in American political history, so his choice of campaign song was Patsy Cline's 1961 love song “Crazy." It attracted attention because his critics dismissed him as such.

During his successful 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush picked Tom Petty's 1989 hit "I Won't Back Down,” to be played during his events.  Petty threatened to sue the campaign for its unauthorised use of the tune, and Bush stopped playing it.

When Sarah Palin ran as John McCain’s 2008 Republican presidential running mate she chose to play Heart’s 1970s hit "Barracuda" at campaign events. The band objected to the use of the song and got the campaign to stop playing it.  Ann and Nancy Wilson didn’t want the song to be associated with the views of Sarah Palin. During the same campaign, Jackson Browne won a suit against John McCain when the Republican presidential candidate played “Running on Empty” in an ad bashing Barack Obama on gas conservation.

Ex-Talking Head frontman David Byrne successfully sued Florida Republican Charlie Crist for using “Road to Nowhere” in a video to attack opponent Marco Rubio during a 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.

Of course, the opposite effect can happen. Mick Fleetwood, from the group Fleetwood Mac, recently said Bill Clinton’s campaign never requested permission for what became his iconic 1992 campaign anthem, “Don’t Stop,” but the band generally voted Democratic and didn’t object to the exposure. 

Legally speaking, copyright laws allow political candidates to use just about any song they want, as long as they’re played at a stadium, arena or other venue that already has a public-performance license through a songwriters’ association such as ASCAP or BMI. However, the law contains plenty of gray area and the artist does have the ability to protect their “right of publicity.”