Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Music Themes for Campaigns Risk Legal Tangles

Today's political campaigns are set to music. Media-savvy candidates choreograph appearances with theme tunes for their signature messages and styles. And sometimes those music choices land them in legal trouble. Ask Donald Trump. The New York Times recently reported on the thorny issue of political music use, noting as examples R.E.M.'s early complaint about Donald Trump using “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and the more recent demand from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith that Trump stop using his band’s 1973 hit “Dream On” at campaign events. The disputes highlight a legal gray area over licensing rules for music in political campaigns, experts explained in the NYT article. For example, when Neil Young complained in June that Trump had used his song “Rockin’ in the Free World” without permission, Trump’s campaign responded that it had obtained a so-called public performance license from Ascap, the music rights agency. In addition, venues where most major campaign events are held (convention halls, hotels, and sports arenas) often carry their own licenses from Ascap and BMI, another rights agency, that allow play of millions of songs in those agencies’ catalogs. Of course, the issue is complicated when the song use at an event is broadcast on TV and shared on social media. The protest letter from Steven Tyler’s lawyer to the Trump campaign even cited the Lanham Act, a federal law covering trademark and false advertising, claiming the song could be seen as a false endorsement. However, lawyers and copyright experts interviewed cited the difficulties of proving people actually thought of the music as an endorsement. In any case, campaigns will want to brush up on the legal nuances of music use. A starting point can be the Recording Industry Association of America's guidelines on copyright issues in music for political campaigns. With expanding media channels, legal confusion and polarized politics, campaigns don't want to risk having a lawsuit call the final tune. See http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/13/us/politics/in-choreographed-campaigns-candidates-stumble-over-choice-of-music.html?_r=0

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