Dear Bands: No Matter How Much You Dislike John McCain, He Can Most Likely Use Your Song

from the can-we-get-this-over-with? dept

The latest in a long line of musicians complaining about Presidential candidate John McCain for his use of their music at campaign stops would be the band the Foo Fighters. Now, as we've pointed out in the past, there are two separate issues to keep in mind here:
  1. In most cases, there's nothing these bands can do from a legal standpoint. Assuming the venue where the music is being played has paid its standard ASCAP license, they can play whatever they want. So when the Foo Fighters make statements like: "It's frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property" is somewhat misleading. It implies that McCain is somehow breaking intellectual property laws. He is not. No matter how much a musician dislikes it, they can't stop these kinds of uses, thanks to the way performance licenses work.
  2. That said, it still seems rather dumb, from a PR standpoint, for the McCain campaign to keep doing this. By now, it should be clear that in a highly-charged political campaign, a band will speak up against the use of a song, if they don't like the candidate. That just leaves the campaign open to more negative press coverage in a way in which many people will sympathize with the musician against the politician -- even though the politician may be on the legally correct side.
Since the McCain campaign has so far ignored these requests in the past, I'm guessing it will continue to do so. But, to avoid these sorts of stories, it would be smart to start asking musicians whether or not they support the candidate before using their song. Or, perhaps, just start using public domain music.
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Filed Under: copyright, foo fighters, john mccain, music, performance rights, presidential campaigns, royalities


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  1. identicon
    LostSailor, 9 Oct 2008 @ 3:07pm

    No Harm in Asking, or Making a Statement

    It implies that McCain is somehow breaking intellectual property laws. He is not. No matter how much a musician dislikes it, they can't stop these kinds of uses, thanks to the way performance licenses work.

    You're absolutely correct that, assuming the McCain campaign is paying the fees, there is nothing that can be legally done to stop them.

    The Foo Fighters statement doesn't actually say that he's breaking the law, and while one might read into the statement the implication you mention, I read it as a public figure, especially a politician, might want to show a little more respect toward artists by at least asking first.

    Okay,politicians and respect are not two concepts that naturally go together, and the campaign (and McCain supporters) probably don't really care what the Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, or Heart think as long as the right mood is set at their rallies.

    Reagan was famous for using Springsteen's "Born in the USA" even after the singer asked him to stop. Ronnie and his supporters apparently never actually listened to the lyrics.

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