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It seems politicians should have learned by now not to use music in their political campaigns without getting permission from the artist. However, legendary power trio, Rush, are the latest in a long line of musicians taking legal action against political candidates for alleged copyright infringement. Rush are upset that Rand Paul, a U.S. Senate candidate from Kentucky, used one of their songs, “The Spirit of Radio,” without their permission. According to Rush’s attorney, for the band, “This is not a political issue — this is a copyright issue.”
The last couple of years have seen several lawsuits brought against politicians for copyright infringement. David Bryne is suing the Governor of Florida, alleging that he used the Talking Heads’ 1985 single, “Road to Nowhere,” without permission or proper license. Bryne is seeking $1 million in damages from Governor Charlie Crist, echoing Rush’s sentiment that the suit “is not about politics . . . it’s about copyright and about the fact that it [implies] I would have licensed it, and endorsed him and whatever he stands for.”
More surprising still is the fact that both of these unauthorized uses of music on the campaign trail come behind the settlement of a high-profile suit against 2008 Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. In fact, Bryne’s attorney, Lawrence Iser, also represented Jackson Brown in a suit against McCain and the Republican National Party for the illegal use of “Running on Empty” in a campaign ad. McCain’s camp also left the Foo Fighters disgruntled by their use of it’s song, “My Hero,” on the campaign trail.
And the list continues: Sarah Palin used Heart’s 1977 “Barracuda” against their wishes; Bruce Springsteen objected when President Reagan used “Born in the USA” during his reelection campaign; and Don Henley filed suit when Charles DeVore, a California state assemblymen “exploited” “The Boys of Summer,” and “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.”
In countering these claims, some politicians have asserted their First Amendment right to political free speech. Political speech, as we know, is given the highest level of protection. However, copyright and trademark deal with different interests than political speech. And given the amount that politicians spend on political campaign, it seems they should pay for the rights to the music they use.
– Donna Baldry
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