Music on the Campaign Trail

It’s over. One of the most politically divisive American elections of recent memory is finally over. And while the effects may be felt for years to come, there was a topic that always came up when both candidates were campaigning that always interested me. While it’s admittedly not that important compared to the election itself, it is something worth talking about in the context of music.

When candidates like Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton appeared at rallies they often played music before they entered and as they exited the stage. I, like many others, would have just assumed that this wasn’t even something worth talking about. But just like any piece of commercial art, you often need permission to use something that isn’t yours.

Yet this is something that candidates like Donald Trump didn’t seem to care about. In an age when companies and businesses use popular music for things such as adverts, movie trailers and more, it’s not surprising to see it used for political campaigns. But you would expect the process of acquiring music for them would follow the correct legal and ethical requirements.

So it’s particularly insulting when Donald Trump kept using the music of singers and bands like The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Adele even after they requested him to stop. This then leads to an important question. Is what he’s doing legal?

For example, here on Feedback we have to make sure that all the music we use on our album reviews fall under Copyright Law and Fair Use. And I’m certain that if we ever posted music on our articles without first making sure it’s within our right to do so that we could potentially be breaking the law. So if you assumed that a presidential campaign would be held to more scrutiny in this regard, then you’d be right.

According to the website Law Street, “A campaign needs to receive legal permission from both the song’s publisher and the artists record label”, as well as a “public performance license”. That’s before even addressing Fair Use. If you want to learn more then I’d definitely recommend reading the article in the link but I think the point is clear. No one should be exempt from having to follow the law when using music publically.

What makes it more annoying then is when a Trump spokesman brazenly admitted “the campaign did not ask for permission to use the song”. It would seem that regardless of the laws stating what can and can’t be done when using someone else’s music, the Trump campaign doesn’t care about the consequences because frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any. At least not for someone who’s famous enough to get away with it.

That’s the issue I have with this. Everybody needs to be held accountable when it comes to copyright law and fair use in regard to using music. It shouldn’t be something that someone can get away with simply because they’re too big and well known to be able to get away with it. Yet while it shouldn’t be allowed, it doesn’t surprise me that it does.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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