Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Volume 20, Issue 17

Stop Using My Song At Your Campaign Rally!

By Julie Greenberg

Everyone has seen on TV, or attended, campaign rallies blasting popular songs to fire up the crowd. Think about Bill Clinton piping Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” or Ronald Regan’s famous use of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” Most recently, “Y-M-C-A” was heard at Donald Trump’s rallies, with Trump getting his groove on, pumping his fists and doing his dad-dance to the 1978 Village People ditty.

But what happens when The Village People objects to a candidate’s use? What about when the Tom Petty estate objected to the use of “I Won’t Back Down” at the controversial indoor Pandemic-defiant Trump Tulsa Rally? What about when Bobby McFerrin objected to George H.W. Bush’s use of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? What about when Jackson Browne sued John McCain for using “Running on Empty”? And, finally, what about the very long list of musicians objecting to Donald Trump’s use of their music, including The Rolling Stones, Neal Young, Adele, Tom Petty, Queen, Phil Collins, Elton John, among others?

The Answer: It’s not so easy for an artist to prevent a political rally from using a song, but it is not impossible.

The considerations:  Legally, copyright infringement actions in these circumstances are hard to win.  Most venues (hotels, convention centers, stadiums, etc.) provide the campaigns with performance rights under the venue’s own blanket public performance license rights through ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc), and the like. Thus, the campaigns can generally rely on the licenses of the leased venues and do not need the artists’ direct permission. Increasingly, however, many ASCAP and BMI licenses have made it possible for artists to withdraw permission for certain political uses. Likewise, some venues expressly exclude political rallies from using the venue’s blanket licenses. Even with a license in place, some artists have relied on claims such as Right of Publicity, Trademark Infringement and False Endorsement in attempts to prevent a campaign from associating with the artist.

With legal avenues questionable, and costly, perhaps the most effective tactic for an artist to disassociate from a campaign is to use its celebrity megaphone: publicly denounce the candidate and condemn the attempt to exploit the artist’s music.Of course, there’s always the bottom line to consider: When Victor Willis of the Village People saw royalties for his YMCA song skyrocket this fall, he retracted his complaint and granted the Trump campaign a retroactive license. As Kenny Rogers would say ♪ ♫ “You gotta know when to hold’em – know when to fold ‘em.” ♫ ♪

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Client News: Twisthink

When Covid hit, we knew it would lead to changes we’ve never experienced before. We also believed it would present new possibilities. Twisthink is an example of industrious minds using this time of uncertainty to think outside the box. Their innovative offering will help companies accelerate their entry into the digital world.

The Twisthink Auris™ offering helps organizations build customizable, IoT-connected devices faster than ever before (up to 40% faster), while also reducing risk.

“When it came time to brand and trademark our new offering, we turned to our partners at Fishman Stewart. This can be a challenging and overwhelming part of creating a new product, service, or even company. But their knowledge, experience, and promptness, brought us to the finish line with an offering we’re proud of.”
– Twisthink

During these times, we’ve learned that a digital strategy facilitates better customer experiences and is fast becoming a strategic priority for organizations and their long-term growth. If you need help creating your next digital product or service, check out Twisthink and their new Auris™ offering.