Jackson Browne.

Jackson Browne vs. GOP Highlights Increasing Role of Music in Politics

July 22, 2009 03:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The unauthorized use of songs during political campaigns has gained momentum in recent years as politicians try to exploit the power of music to draw support from voters.

Protecting Musicians’ Rights

Musician Jackson Brown has settled his lawsuit against John McCain and the Republican Party for unauthorized use of his song “Running on Empty” during the 2008 presidential campaign, The Associated Press reports. The settlement also stipulates that the Republican Party promise “not to use any musician’s work without permission in future campaigns.”

Entertainers such as musicians and Hollywood celebrities have played an increasingly significant role in political campaigns over recent years, hoping to appeal to the general public with their endorsement of a particular candidate’s platform. The problem begins, however, when an entertainer’s work is utilized without their consent.

Brown, a 60-year-old singer-songwriter and active supporter of Barack Obama’s campaign, did not approve of the use of his song in a Web advertisement that made fun of Obama’s energy proposal. “This settlement is really a great affirmation of what I believed my rights to be, and all writers’ rights to be,” he told the AP.

Although McCain’s campaign reportedly “ran afoul of several musicians” for using their work without permission during his campaign, the AP mentions that Obama was also guilty: Sam Moore asked him to stop using the song “Soul Man” during his campaign.

Background: A common offense

The issue of unauthorized use of musical material for political purposes is not a new one. In February 2008, for instance, musician Tom Scholz from the band “Boston” accused Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee of using his hit “More Than a Feeling” as part of his campaign without the band’s permission. “By using my song, and my band's name Boston, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. In other words, I think I've been ripped off, dude!” he told the AP.

Similarly, A&M Records asked Louisiana Republican candidate David Duke to stop using Bryan Adams’ song, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” during his campaign back in 1991. According to the Los Angeles Times, Adams also asked Louisiana radio stations to stop playing the song until after the election, to avoid mistaken associations and protect voters from being “unintentionally influenced to vote for the man.”

According to the AP, other singers have felt honored by the use of their songs for political campaigns they support. Celine Dion, for instance, declared to be “thrilled” that Sen. Hillary Clinton used her song, “You and I,” for her campaign, and U2 hasn’t filed complaints for Obama’s use of their “City of Blinding Lights” song at his events.

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