Sunday, September 14, 2008

Political Music Political Campaigns.

Those that have taken the time to peruse my draft presentation on political music and ways to overcome institutional constraints, will note that one of the solutions I propose to ensure that oppositional audible culture is heard and realises its communicative potential, is by allowing legitimate non profits the right to stream music on their websites as a way of educating and informing the public about topical issues.

I expect that this idea will raise concerns with some about the rights of artists, or more accurately copyright holders, to control the uses and applications of their works. For more aesthetic forms of music there is less contention with respect to restricting these uses, particularly as mass media avenues such as radio and television remain as one means of exposure. For political music however, there is more commonly a need to link with grass roots campaigns in order to achieve the desired goal and intention of the songs.

But where does one draw the line in enabling the use of works for these purposes?

In the United States recently, the use of music in political campaigns has been somewhat of a topical issue.

First Jackson Browne’s song ‘Running on Empty’ was used by the McCain campaign in political advertising against Barak Obama. Find Law reported that the artist filed a Federal lawsuit in Los Angeles against McCain, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Ohio Republican Party (ORP), accusing them of copyright infringement, statutory violations, and violation of the right of publicity. Browne seeks injunctive relief stopping the unauthorized use of his song, actual damages, statutory damages, and attorney's fees and costs.

Then the McCain party used the Heart song ‘Barracuda’ at a campaign event. Provided a performance license was obtained prior to the use of the work this is not a breach of copyright. The copyright holder however, was reported to have sent a cease and desist letter.

In the United States election process it is common for artists to endorse candidates. Where their works are used without prior consent or in conflict with their political views there is likely to be some backlash. Another example of this was when the Reagan administration was seeking re-election and an approach was made to Bruce Springsteen. Reagan sought endorsement from Springsteen and despite being refused made public reference to the song ‘Born in the USA’. In response, Springsteen made an announcement at a concert refuting suggestions that Reagan was a true fan.

I consider there to be a distinct difference between using music on websites for lobby groups, and use for an election campaign. In the first instance the work is used to express the intended sentiment of the song, for educational and illustrative purposes that inform citizens about important issues. In the later, it seems the music is more about marketing a person or party in a way that contributes to their image and public perception.

I acknowledge that the idea of allowing grass roots campaigners to use music on their websites, is one which may require further detailed analysis in order to establish boundaries and processes that enable it to happen without derogating from the artists preferences. However I also consider the present regulatory environment to be one which impacts on political music to the point of it being virtually silenced and see the need to take steps to overcome this as a very important objective.

Further Reading
FindLaw, "Running On Empty"? - Jackson Browne Files Suit Against John McCain (August 2008) <> at 22 August 2008

TechDirt, McCain Campaign Ignores Cease-And-Desist; Keeps Playing 'Barracuda' (10 September 2008) <> at 12 September 2008

TechDirt, Heart Demanding McCain Campaign Stop Using Its Song (5 September 2008) <> at 12 September 2008

FindLaw, "Running On Empty"? - Jackson Browne Files Suit Against John McCain (August 2008) <> at 22 August 2008

Wikipedia, Born in the U.S.A song (30 August 2008) <> at 14 September 2008

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