John Oliver's Story On Campaign Music And Copyright Is… Wrong
from the this-again? dept
Yes, let’s start with the obvious: John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is a comedy program meant to entertain and is not meant to be journalism. It’s a point that Oliver himself has made repeatedly. But others disagree with him, pointing out that his show regularly does actual journalism. The fact that he’s hired a bunch of journalists on his team kind of says a lot. Also, according to multiple people I know who have been interviewed for stories on his show, while his focus is on making things funny, his team also spends a lot of time making sure they get the details right. It’s why we so frequently end up posting his videos on stories that relate to Techdirt topics — because they’re not only entertaining, but are also generally dead on in accuracy. It’s why we’ve posted his videos on net neutrality, corporate sovereignty, encryption, surveillance, civil asset forfeiture and patent trolls.
But this past weekend, he not only covered last week’s Republican National Convention, but also, separately, the fact that representatives for both Queen and the Rolling Stones complained publicly about the RNC using their music in prominent parts of the convention. Oliver got together a bunch of famous musicians (many of whom have protested politicians using their music) to sing a song telling politicians not to use their songs, claiming that it’s “stealing” and unauthorized because the politicians didn’t reach out to get permission.
This is flat out wrong in most situations. As we’ve pointed out again and again and again and again, in nearly all cases, politicians using music at an event have the proper licenses. They don’t need to get permission from the musicians so long as either the campaign or the venue have ASCAP or BMI blanket licenses, which they almost always do. The whole point of ASCAP/BMI licenses is that you don’t need to get individual permission from the artists or their publishers.
There are instances, occasionally, where politicians ridiculously don’t have such a license, but it’s pretty rare. And there may be a few other narrow exceptions, such as if there’s an implied endorsement by the musicians, but that’s rarely the case.
Unfortunately, the song from John Oliver and friends ignores all of that, even stating directly at one point that for a politician to use music, you first have to call the publisher. That’s wrong. ASCAP and BMI already have taken care of that.
Perhaps this isn’t a huge deal, but one would hope that Oliver would actually get the basic facts right on this too, because every election season this issue comes up and spreading more misinformation about it doesn’t help.