We see it every election cycle: a candidate stands on a podium while a crowd cheers and music blares. Ronald Regan blasted “Born In The U.S.A.” George W. Bush boomed “Brand New Day” Donald Trump roared “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
The music inspires patriotism, rejuvenation and spirit, but what if the songwriter does not support the politician?
Can Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Neil Young stop a politician from playing their songs?
The answer follows the lines of all great legal answers — “Maybe.”
There are a few factors that must be reviewed to determine if a musical artist can cease a politician from using his or her music.
1. Did the venue have a license?
2. Is the rally recorded?
3. Is the songwriter’s voice used in the sound recording?
4. Where does the songwriter live?
If the political rally is in a venue that has a performance license from a Performance Rights Organization (such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC), the venue typically purchases a blanket license from the Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) that permits these venues to perform all of the songs listed with the PRO.
Normally, this blanket license is sufficient to cover most political rallies.
Some political campaigns go the extra mile and purchase their own blanket license from these PROs. This additional license is usually purchased to cover any event occurring inside a venue that already has a PRO blanket license, such as an outdoor event at a park or farm.
If the rally is recorded on video, then the political campaign must obtain a different license from the songwriter (or more likely the songwriter’s publishing company) and a license from the owner of the sound recording. Here, the songwriter has more control over the license of his or her song as opposed to the song being lumped together with thousands of other songs in a blanket license.
So, let’s say I’m a songwriter and I do not want a certain political candidate to use my song at a rally, but the political candidate is not videotaping the event, and the venue and the campaign have a blanket license from all of the PROs. What can I do?
Right of Publicity
Ultimately politicians will never stop using popular music at rallies. Music creates feelings, and politicians know that these feelings can lead to their political success. However, blind use without permission from the songwriter will defeat any good feeling created by the use of songwriter’s music at any rally.
Travis Life, an attorney at Leavens, Strand & Glover, LLC advises artists and businesses on intellectual property and the entertainment industry. Leavens, Strand & Glover, LLC in Chicago and Nashville.