In 1932, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the precedent of using pre-existing songs during a campaign when he played ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ on his quest for reelection. Since then, political candidates and musical artists have fought over whether or not the candidates should be able to use songs at campaign stops and speeches.
When running for reelection, Ronald Reagan and his campaign staff decided to target moderate and Democrat voters, as his Republican voter base was solidified. Reagan resorted to using mainstream images to sway undecided voters, and it eventually came back to bite him in the butt. In 1984, during a speech on his reelection campaign trail, Reagan played Bruce Springsteen’s popular tune ‘Born in the USA’ and quoted the song, using the inspiring Springsteen as an image to attract voters. Since Reagan was a Republican and Springsteen was a Democrat, their political beliefs clashed. When asked by media sources about Reagan, Springsteen publicly asked Reagan to not use his music.
In 2008, the brothers from Van Halen called out Republican presidential nominee John McCain for using their song, publicly stating that “permission was not sought or granted nor would it have been given.”
Although Springsteen and Van Halen were respectful about asking candidates to stop using their music, other artists have not been so nice when denying candidates permission to use their work.
More recently, at the annual Iowa Freedom Summit in 2015, conservative Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used the song ‘I’m Shipping Out to Boston,’ by the Dropkick Murphy’s. After just one instance of Walker using the pro-union band’s music, they took to social media, tweeting “please stop using our music in any way… we literally hate you !!!”
Clashes occur because of different political beliefs between the artist and the politician. This year a total of nine popular artist have barred Republican nominee Donald Trump from using their music because it doesn’t represent what he stands for as a politician. Some of the famous artists on this list include Adele, the Rolling Stones, Queen, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Neil Young.
When politicians use artists’ songs in a campaign without authorization, it can be problematic for the artist.
They have to choose whether to speak publicly and give the candidate more attention; or keep to themselves and risk the public thinking he or she endorses the candidate.
Some consider songs property of the artist. “The song belongs to the artist… any candidate should have to ask permission to play it,” junior Griffin Kirsch said.
Laws state that if a candidate is at a venue that already has a public entertainment permit, such as a stadium, the candidate is allowed to use songs without having to ask permission. Another point of view is that songs are made to be listened to and should be freely played. “Artists make songs for everyone to listen to, even political candidates should be able to use them” junior Lindsay Ross said.
The most likely reason candidates use music without permission is that they want to play music that will resonate with or attract target voters and they simply bypass asking permission from artists. Although laws pertaining to use of music without permission are vague, if a candidate refuses to stop playing a song, the artist may be able to protect their right of publicity against the politician. With just days until the general election, and campaign stops still to come for both candidates, the battle over campaign songs will continue.