When campaign music infringes

You may (or may not) know that I am somewhat of a political junkie and, as such, I have been avidly following the Republican and Democratic politics.

And, when the music starts playing, as a copyright attorney, I always wonder whether the political campaign has obtained rights in the popular music they are playing. Just today, I was catching up with journals in the Intellectual Property field, and couldn’t help but notice some of the disputes that are rearing their ugly heads:

Cpyt_silNewt Gingrich got jammed up by Frankie Sullivan, a member of the rock band Survivor and his company Rude Music, for Newt’s unauthorized use of the song Eye of the Tiger.

After President Obama’s campaign replayed Mitt Romney’s atrocious (that is fact, not political commentary) rendition of America The Beautiful in an ad, the Romney campaign ran ads including Obama’s rendition of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. BMG Rights Management, who owns the latter song, challenged Romney and the ad was pulled. Romney has since been challenged for unauthorized use of the Silversun Pickups’ song Panic Room.

And Paul Ryan has been challenged by Dee Snyder for Ryan’s unauthorized use of Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.

My personal favorite: The Eagles 2010 challenge of Joe Walsh’s use of the song Walk Away in his campaign for the House of Representatives to represent an Illinois district. Ironically, in Walsh’s 2012 reelection campaign, the famed Eagles guitarist has endorsed politician Tammy Duckworth, Joe Walsh’s opponent. Musician Joe Walsh even played for Duckworth at a concert this past July. My guess is the house came down when Walk Away was performed.

Though it can be significant, whether an artist or copyright owner endorses a candidate (specifically, Silversun Pickups did not endorse Romney), unauthorized use of songs for political ads and rallies is generally not safeguarded by the fair use doctrine.

MLShapiro