Yet Another Artist Wrongly Claims that Politician Has No Right to Use Their Music

The Independent is running an article today entitled Adele didn’t give Donald Trump permission to use her music at rallies. You get one of these every now and then, with musicians complaining that politicians have no right to use their music in rallies.

Unfortunately for the musicians, they’re simply wrong, and the newspapers and other media that report this are stupid. As ASCAP explains:

Q: What licenses does a campaign need to play music at campaign events?

A: First, while many venues have proper “public performance” licenses, as a general rule the licenses for convention centers, arenas and hotels exclude music use during conventions, expositions and campaign events. If a campaign is holding many events at dozens of different venues, it may be easier for the campaign itself to obtain a public performance license from ASCAP (and possibly one or both of the other two U.S. performing right organizations if the music is licensed through one of them). This would guarantee that, no matter where you have a campaign stop, it would be in compliance with copyright law.

ASCAP also points out the following:

Q: if the campaign events are properly licensed, can the campaign still be criticized or even sued by an artist for playing his or her song at an event?

A: Yes. If an artist does not want his or her music to be associated with the campaign, he or she may be able to take legal action even if the campaign has the appropriate copyright licenses. While the campaign would be in compliance with copyright law, it could potentially be in violation of other laws. Specifically, the campaign could be liable under any of the following claims:

  1. “Right of Publicity”, which in many states provides image protection for famous people or artists.
  2. The “Lanham Act”, which covers the confusion or dilution of a trademark (such as a band or artist name) through its unauthorized use.
  3. “False Endorsement” where use of the artist’s identifying work implies that the artist supports a product or candidate.

As a general rule, a campaign should be aware that, in most cases, the more closely a song is tied to the “image” or message of the campaign, the more likely it is that the recording artist or songwriter of the song could object to the song’s usage in the campaign.

In essence, playing a song at a rally is covered by the basic license, and no one can complain about that. Using a song in a political ad, however, is totally different, and that requires specific permissions and licensing, but this isn’t what these musicians complain about. As the article in The Independent says:

Adele has told Donald Trump that he does not have permission to use her songs at campaign rallies after fans expressed their anger that the Presidential hopeful was using the singer’s hits as his warm-up music.

This is totally legal, as long as Trump – or the venues hosting him – have paid their license fees to ASCAP, BMI, or whichever licensing agency handles the music. Musicians may not like it, but that’s just the way the copyright system works.

Note that many musicians have complained about this over the years, and I don’t recall any of them seeking legal redress for this type of use.

24 thoughts on “Yet Another Artist Wrongly Claims that Politician Has No Right to Use Their Music

    • Most likely, but it’s just pissing in the wind. And I blame the media for not telling the truth about what the candidate’s rights are.

    • Most likely, but it’s just pissing in the wind. And I blame the media for not telling the truth about what the candidate’s rights are.

  1. I’m not a lawyer (and not a native english speaker), but for me the second quotation pretty much contradicts your point:

    … If an artist does not want his or her music to be associated with the campaign, he or she may be able to take legal action even if the campaign has the appropriate copyright licenses.
    ….
    “False Endorsement” where use of the artist’s identifying work implies that the artist supports a product or candidate.

    (I can’t see, why this should be limited to “ads”.)

    • Because playing music as warm-up isn’t in any way suggestive of an endorsement. Ads are very different, in part because the licensing for anything that is broadcast is different from public performance. What Adele is complaining about is the same as if a bar played one of her songs on their PA system.

  2. I’m not a lawyer (and not a native english speaker), but for me the second quotation pretty much contradicts your point:

    … If an artist does not want his or her music to be associated with the campaign, he or she may be able to take legal action even if the campaign has the appropriate copyright licenses.
    ….
    “False Endorsement” where use of the artist’s identifying work implies that the artist supports a product or candidate.

    (I can’t see, why this should be limited to “ads”.)

    • Because playing music as warm-up isn’t in any way suggestive of an endorsement. Ads are very different, in part because the licensing for anything that is broadcast is different from public performance. What Adele is complaining about is the same as if a bar played one of her songs on their PA system.

  3. And if said campaign is recorded and shared on YouTube or other outlet? Im not 100% sure but I’d imagine rights purchased aren’t all inclusive. Live play would be separate from rights for distribution via recording etc…

    • My guess is that’s a different area. If it were on the news, I would think (and I’m just guessing) that it fits with the standard license that TV stations have for music. Up to 30 seconds, they pay a limited amount, and above that they pay more. But if it’s background music – i.e., not music added by the TV station – then there might not be any payment. I wonder, though, about a video broadcast. But we’re talking about warm-up music, not the music that is used when the candidate comes on stage, such as with Sanders using Simon & Garfunkel’s America; that requires more specific licensing.

  4. And if said campaign is recorded and shared on YouTube or other outlet? Im not 100% sure but I’d imagine rights purchased aren’t all inclusive. Live play would be separate from rights for distribution via recording etc…

    • My guess is that’s a different area. If it were on the news, I would think (and I’m just guessing) that it fits with the standard license that TV stations have for music. Up to 30 seconds, they pay a limited amount, and above that they pay more. But if it’s background music – i.e., not music added by the TV station – then there might not be any payment. I wonder, though, about a video broadcast. But we’re talking about warm-up music, not the music that is used when the candidate comes on stage, such as with Sanders using Simon & Garfunkel’s America; that requires more specific licensing.

  5. If the song is played randomly at events, it’s probably not a problem. If a song is played each and every time a candidate comes onto the stage or leaves the stage, in effect becoming a theme song, then it implies endorsement. Bill Clinton used Don’t Stop in that way.

    • Right, that’s the big difference when it starts sounding like an endorsement, and requires more specific licensing, as the ASCAP document says.

  6. If the song is played randomly at events, it’s probably not a problem. If a song is played each and every time a candidate comes onto the stage or leaves the stage, in effect becoming a theme song, then it implies endorsement. Bill Clinton used Don’t Stop in that way.

    • Right, that’s the big difference when it starts sounding like an endorsement, and requires more specific licensing, as the ASCAP document says.

  7. http://www.johnbatchelorshow.com/schedules/tuesday-2-february-2016

    Kirk, I always wondered what is the responsibility of a talk radio host when they open every segment with a 15 to 30 second piece of score music as this host does every night? What was frustrating in the beginning was that I wanted to buy the music that he played but he never credited the artist, after sending in an email to complain, he started to list the album names, at first he wrote that they were already highly compensated and he did not have time to list them, now he has reverted back to not listing the tracks which again is annoying because he uses the music to enhance his show, the least he could do is list the album names so his audience can buy them.

    • I don’t know that they’re responsible for anything. You note that they play 15-30 seconds, which keeps them under that 30-second threshold after which they’d have to pay more. But there’s no requirement for anyone to credit the music they play. It would be different in, say, a soundtrack for a movie, where everything does need to be credited, but there is also very different licensing for that type of use.

  8. http://www.johnbatchelorshow.com/schedules/tuesday-2-february-2016

    Kirk, I always wondered what is the responsibility of a talk radio host when they open every segment with a 15 to 30 second piece of score music as this host does every night? What was frustrating in the beginning was that I wanted to buy the music that he played but he never credited the artist, after sending in an email to complain, he started to list the album names, at first he wrote that they were already highly compensated and he did not have time to list them, now he has reverted back to not listing the tracks which again is annoying because he uses the music to enhance his show, the least he could do is list the album names so his audience can buy them.

    • I don’t know that they’re responsible for anything. You note that they play 15-30 seconds, which keeps them under that 30-second threshold after which they’d have to pay more. But there’s no requirement for anyone to credit the music they play. It would be different in, say, a soundtrack for a movie, where everything does need to be credited, but there is also very different licensing for that type of use.

  9. A much better headline would have been SLEAZY POLITICIANS CONTINUE TO DISHONESTLY IMPY THAT POPULAR MUSIC STARS HAVE ENDORSED THEIR CAMPAIGNS.

    Adele didn’t ignorantly claim that Donald Trump required her permission to play “Rolling in the Deep” at numerous Trump rallys. She clarified for her fans that she had nothing to do with bestowing any support on Trump and that she hadn’t told his campaign that she gave Trump permission to use the song. Neil Young went further after Trump used “Rockin’ in the Free World” and explicitly DID give the Bernie Sanders campaign the right to use the song royalty-free.

    As a question of public ethics, it seems to me that the offensiveness of the behavior of politicians in these cases far outweighs the pressing need to scold pop artists about properly framing complex legal niceties.

  10. A much better headline would have been SLEAZY POLITICIANS CONTINUE TO DISHONESTLY IMPY THAT POPULAR MUSIC STARS HAVE ENDORSED THEIR CAMPAIGNS.

    Adele didn’t ignorantly claim that Donald Trump required her permission to play “Rolling in the Deep” at numerous Trump rallys. She clarified for her fans that she had nothing to do with bestowing any support on Trump and that she hadn’t told his campaign that she gave Trump permission to use the song. Neil Young went further after Trump used “Rockin’ in the Free World” and explicitly DID give the Bernie Sanders campaign the right to use the song royalty-free.

    As a question of public ethics, it seems to me that the offensiveness of the behavior of politicians in these cases far outweighs the pressing need to scold pop artists about properly framing complex legal niceties.

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