Idol Chatter

JohnMellencamp.JPGThere’s a serious ethical issue that surrounds this year’s presidential campaign. No, it’s not pulling out of the war in Iraq or universal healthcare, but a little thing known as campaign music clearance, a point illustrated once again by Democrat John Mellencamp asking Republican John McCain to stop using his music as a rallying cry and Boston founder Tom Scholz asking Mike Huckabee to do the same.
Yes, fellow constituents, there is nothing better than a rousing anthem, uniting like-minded people under a banner of bombast. But campaign music has changed since the days of the penned-for-the-purpose “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” and the tantalizingly titled “William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska.” Now our politicos hope to tap into the national zeitgeist, or at least national nostalgia, by choosing popular rock anthems. You would think that a group of spin doctors would at least ask permission of the artist before spinning their record at rallies; it would be prudent, after all.

Yes, just like in the music industry there are hits–can anyone forget the Clinton campaign’s use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”–but there are just as many flops; think Ronald Reagan’s people not understanding the actual meaning of “Born in the U.S.A.” But, more often than not, the egg on the politician’s face could be averted by the campaign going through common compliance procedures. My clearest memory of the 2004 Republican presidential campaign is George W. Bush being asked to stop using Orleans’ “Still The One” for lack of permission.
But, it’s not just artistic integrity that’s at stake here, there’s also money. As Daniel Healy, an intellectual property lawyer, told, “If you have protectable copyrights to a song and someone is using it without permission, and especially if they know they’re using it without permission, there is some sort of legal liability there and it may be that they could be required to pay royalties at the very least.” In an age where a Minnesota woman is prosecuted for using Kazaa, shouldn’t political campaigns with million dollar war chests be held to the same standards?
Of course, politicians could avoid all forms of embarrassment if they just harkened back to the good old days of original campaign songs, like members of Pearl Jam’s “Rock Around Barack,” or the Will.i.Am-produced, star-studded “Yes We Can video.
On second thought, maybe they should stick with the less embarrassing 1970’s power anthems.

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