We’ve all seen it: A politician comes onto the stage at an event to the music of an artist we’re pretty sure doesn’t share that politician’s views.
The songwriter may speak out publicly and demand that the politician stop using their music, but they don’t. Sometimes they double down and use it in videos as well.
What recourse does a songwriter have?
It depends on where the music is used. Obtaining the rights to use music at a live event is easier than it is to use it on video – whether in an online ad, a social media post or a television commercial.
Often, a publishing rights organization (PRO) like ASCAP or BMI will sign a licensing agreement with a large venue that allows the music covered by that agreement to be played – regardless of whom it’s being played for. Sometimes, political campaigns will sign licensing agreements that give them the right to use a wide range of music at live events.
If your music is included in that agreement, you may have no legal recourse besides sending the campaign a cease-and-desist letter. You have every right to make your views on the politician known and speak out against their use of your music. In 2015, one group posted a tweet aimed at a governor who was using their music in his campaign that said in part, “please stop using our music in any way…we literally hate you!!!”
What about the Lanham Act?
Some well-known artists have relied on portions of the Lanham Act to claim that a politician is damaging or diluting their brand by using their music. If what the politician represents is antithetical to the beliefs of the musician(s) and even the meaning of the song, this can be a valid argument.
The best thing to do if someone is using your music in any forum without your permission is to seek legal guidance to determine what your options are. You also may be able to take steps to prevent it from happening in the future.