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Just Get Permission

I remember being a teenager and going to my first dance. It was one of those events where I wanted everything to be perfect. My brother, who was a few years older than me, had his own room and a bottle of cologne that he had bought with his own hard-earned money sitting in his dresser drawer.

Even though I had already showered, I still remember wanting to make a big impression with the “ladies” that night. I certainly didn’t want to take the chance of coming across smelling like teenage sweat and gasoline from mowing the lawn earlier in the day.

My brother was away so I secretly crept into his room, donned some of the essence of manhood, resealed the bottle and was on my way. “He’s got so much of it, he won’t mind if I use it”, I said to myself.

Of course, when I came home from the dance and my brother smelled the remnants of his cologne on me well, needless to say my arm hurt for weeks from the punches I had received.

My point is: there are consequences for doing things without permission.

The same can be said for politicians who decide to use artists songs without permission for rallying cries and campaign themes. As was evident most recently when Newt Gingrich decided to use the song “Eye of The Tiger” by the band Survivor as the entrance theme for his political events. An author himself, and probably more knowledgeable in the area of copyright laws than the average person, Newt should have known better.

Consider this: What if someone were to raise money for their own cause at some conference by reading verbatim one of Newt’s books? If large amounts of cash started pouring in, how long would it be before Mr. Gingrich would send a registered letter with a cease and desist order attached to it?

We’ve seen this before. In 2011 Congresswoman Michele Bachman tried to use Tom Petty’s “American Girl” without permission. In 2008 then republican presidential candidate John McCain tried to use the song “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne without permission.

Even as far back as 1984 President Reagan attempted to use the Bruce Springsteen anthem “Born in The USA” as part of his re-election campaign . In each case the candidate was eventually, and sometimes embarrassingly denied.

But unauthorized use of songs isn’t just restricted to republicans. in 2008, then candidate Barack Obama started using the song “Hold On! I’m Comin'” made famous by R&B group Sam and Dave. That is of course until Sam Moore, the songwriter, requested he stop using it.

All of these are good songs and ones that would be a no brainer for use at rallies and campaign events. But the people using them all forgot to seek permission to use them first.

Now some may think to the contrary but I personally don’t believe songwriters choosing to sue or have cease and desist orders sent out are based on personal politics. What most people don’t understand is that songwriters put their heart and soul into their material.

Songs aren’t just something you create like a paper airplane. The words and music contained in songs are the thoughts, pains and struggles of the writer. They’re actually living, breathing works of art and as such, it’s the writers duty to protect their copyright. As a songwriter myself, I can relate to this.

But whether or not a songwriter chooses to allow a political candidate, or anyone for that matter, to use their material is irrelevant. Maybe they will let you use it and maybe they won’t. But to avoid consequence, much like the lesson I learned using my brothers cologne, you should always remember to do one thing:

Get permission first.

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About James Wood

Influenced by life, love and the pursuit of the perfect song is what best describes my passion. I’m a closeted classic rock/metal-head from the 80′s who loves to write.

Posted on January 31, 2012, in Music, Thought and Opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. in a world where “doing the right thing” seems to matter less and less, it’s great when there are consequences for your actions. if you want something, ask first. if you quote someone, give them a reference. there are rules, and then there are manners.

    it’s all too easy for people to think that writing..either music or words is easy, and therefore using without permission is no big deal. writing is hard, it requires some talent, patience and a whole lot of discipline. making a living at is is even tougher.

    the “eye of the newt” will be overtaken by the “eye of the tiger.”…no contest.

    • No doubt: tiger trumps newt… It’s kind of hard to believe that he wouldn’t have asked first. Didn’t he see what happened in the past with Bachman and McCain?

  2. Just a few weeks ago, I had a do a video for my Viral Marketing class at Full Sail University. As I had finished my first attempt of shooting it, my friend and myself though that “Eye of the Tiger” by Surviver would be the perfect song to use as a background song.

    For a second, I was tempted to use the song without asking. However, since the video needed to be placed on my blog and then promoted on Facebook and Twitter, I quickly changed my mind about using it without asking first.

    I finally found their Facebook page and asked how I could get permission. I got an email address and low and behold, the assignment was due before I got permission.

    However, I did find a CC music piece that I added to the video. While it worked, it did little to complement the story line. A couple of days past and I finally received permission.

    At the time, I could not make the modification. When I finally did, I reworked the timing of the video to match the full song.

    To make a long story a tiny bit shorter. It was not until my re-mix that I received my first comment regarding the video. I am glad that I waited and got to use it without having to worry about getting in trouble if Survivor ever saw it. It also made the remark that I received so much sweeter.

    • Great story Franz. Thanks for sharing. Yours is the classic example of ask and ye shall receive. I think it’s funny that all of these people who want to lead our country can’t follow your example and instead break the law.

      Maybe they were just lazy about it. Or maybe they just assumed that even though the song fits their campaign the artist might not have their same political beliefs and tell them to go pound sand.

      What ever the case, you shouldn’t just use someone’s material without permission.

  3. Jim, another great post. Started looking for writing jobs yet?

  4. Hmmm, which prez would use “oops I did it again? By Brittany Spears. It could go down in history as George W’s theme song. Lol

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