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.