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Over at Politico, Suz Redfearn has a very good story on how “cease-and-desist letters from musicians have rained down like confetti on Republicans over the years.”
Redfearn analyzes whether copyright authority allows musicians such as Heart, Van Halen, and John Mellencamp to prevent their non-preferred politicians from using their songs as campaign music.
So, what’s the answer?
The McCain-Palin campaign tells Politico that in 2007 it purchased both ASCAP and BMI licenses that cover the use of tunes for all public events. A blanket license from one of these public performance rights organizations allows entities to play any of about 8 million songs at a public event. In other words, musicians don’t have much legal authority to stop their music from being played.
Lately, however, musicians have been testing other legal grounds for stopping politicians from using their music, especially when the songs are played in campaign commercials or reworked as viral web advertisements. Claims being used are violations of rights of publicity, false advertising, and trademark violations.
Last month, singer Jackson Browne sued the McCain campaign on these grounds after the candidate used his song, “Running on Empty,” in a campaign commercial. Browne’s attorney maintains that McCain must get synchronization rights and a master-use license to use a song clip with a video. A legal adviser to the McCain campaign counters that fair use applies in this instance.
Political campaigns have been known to deliver good case law on intellectual property rights, such as the case in 2000 when MasterCard sued Ralph Nader for trademark dilution after he spoofed their “Priceless” campaign. It’s unclear whether we’ll see any path-breaking decisions resulting from all the cease-and-desist confetti being thrown about this year, but we’re sure that many musicians would appreciate some legal clarification.
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