What do members of the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Green Day have in common with the likes of Lorde, Sia and Regina Spektor? Outside of hordes of fans and albums sold, they and dozens of others have signed an open letter demanding that their songs get clearance before they can be played at political events.
They are among the dozens of big names who are teaming with the Artist Rights Alliance to call on major U.S. political parties to “establish clear policies requiring campaigns to seek consent of featured recording artists, songwriters and copyright owners before publicly using their music in a political or campaign setting.”
Also among those inking the letter are Elton John, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Rosanne Cash, Alanis Morissette, Courtney Love, Jason Isbell, Linkin Park, Lykke Li, Train and Lionel Richie. Read the letter in full below, along with the signatories.
The news comes among a flood of recent complaints by musicians griping about their songs being used by the Donald Trump re-election campaign. As Deadline reported exclusively last month, performing rights groups BMI and ASCAP have warned the president’s team against using certain songs at rallies and other events. At the forefront of that initiative are the Rolling Stones, whose “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” has been a staple at Trump events for years.
That band’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are among the musicians who signed the open letter. But they certainly aren’t alone in wanting their music off the rally playlists.
Numerous other acts have publicly objected to the use of their songs at Trump’s campaign rallies, including Neil Young, whose “Rockin’ in the Free World” was played when Trump announced his candidacy after descending an escalator at the Trump Tower in New York in June 2015; Queen for his use of “We Are the Champions” at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland; Rihanna, for the use of her hit song “Don’t Stop the Music” at a 2018 Trump rally in Tallahassee, FL; Pharrell Williams, whose Oscar-nominated “Happy” was played at a Trump rally hours after 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018; Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, whose “High Hopes” played at Trump’s Phoenix event this week; and the estate of the Tom Petty, whose “I Won’t Back Down” also was played at Trump’s rally last week in Tulsa.
Most recently, singer-actress Betty Buckley successfully urged Andrew Lloyd Webber to take action to stop Trump’s use of her signature song, “Memory” from Cats.
Here is the complete letter:
Dear Campaign Committees:
As artists, activists, and citizens, we ask you to pledge that all candidates you support will seek consent from featured recording artists and songwriters before using their music in campaign and political settings. This is the only way to effectively protect your candidates from legal risk, unnecessary public controversy, and the moral quagmire that comes from falsely claiming or implying an artist’s support or distorting an artists’ expression in such a high stakes public way.
This is not a new problem. Or a partisan one. Every election cycle brings stories of artists and songwriters frustrated to find their work being used in settings that suggest endorsement or support of political candidates without their permission or consent.
Being dragged unwillingly into politics in this way can compromise an artist’s personal values while disappointing and alienating fans – with great moral and economic cost. For artists that do choose to engage politically in campaigns or other contexts, this kind of unauthorized public use confuses their message and undermines their effectiveness. Music tells powerful stories and drives emotional connection and engagement – that’s why campaigns use it, after all! But doing so without permission siphons away that value.
The legal risks are clear. Campaign uses of music can violate federal and (in some cases) state copyrights in both sound recordings and musical compositions. Depending on the technology used to copy and broadcast these works, multiple exclusive copyrights, including both performance and reproduction, could be infringed. In addition, these uses impact creators’ rights of publicity and branding, potentially creating exposure for trademark infringement, dilution, or tarnishment under the Lanham Act and giving rise to claims for false endorsement, conversion, and other common law and statutory torts. When campaign commercials or advertisements are involved, a whole additional host of rules and regulations regarding campaign fundraising (including undisclosed and potentially unlawful “in-kind” contributions), finance, and communications could also potentially be breached.
More importantly, falsely implying support or endorsement from an artist or songwriter is dishonest and immoral. It undermines the campaign process, confuses the voting public, and ultimately distorts elections. It should be anathema to any honest candidate to play off this kind of uncertainty or falsely leave the impression of an artist’s or songwriter’s support.
Like all other citizens, artists have the fundamental right to control their work and make free choices regarding their political expression and participation. Using their work for political purposes without their consent fundamentally breaches those rights – an invasion of the most hallowed, even sacred personal interests.
No politician benefits from forcing a popular artist to publicly disown and reject them. Yet these unnecessary controversies inevitably draw even the most reluctant or apolitical artists off the sidelines, compelling them to explain the ways they disagree with candidates wrongfully using their music. And on social media and in the culture at large, it’s the politicians that typically end up on the wrong side of those stories.
For all these reasons, we urge you to establish clear policies requiring campaigns supported by your committees to seek the consent of featured recording artists, songwriters, and copyright owners before publicly using their music in a political or campaign setting. Funding, logistical support, and participation in committee programs, operations, and events should be contingent on this pledge, and its terms should be clearly stated in writing in your bylaws, operating guidelines, campaign manuals, or where you establish any other relevant rules, requirements, or conditions of support.
Please let us know by August 10th how you plan to accomplish these changes.
Artist Rights Alliance
Beth Nielsen Chapman
Daniel Martin Moore
Fall Out Boy
Kurt Cobain estate
Panic! At The Disco
T Bone Burnett
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