Songwriters vs. presidential candidates

- It happens every election season: an artist angrily asks a presidential candidate to stop using their music at campaign events. Most recently, the artist was Adele. And the candidate was Donald Trump, playing “Rolling in the Deep.”

So, can a songwriter sue a candidate?

“The bottom line is anybody who wants to use songwriters’ work for their campaign probably ought to ask for their permission,” Tom Cotter, an intellectual property professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law, told Fox 9. “The law probably requires it, and really just being fair to the artist.”

Under copyright law, you need a license to play an artist’s song to the public. ASCAP is the largest organization providing those licenses. A campaign can get a license, and large venues often have the licenses. However, according to ASCAP, “as a general rule the licenses for convention centers, arenas and hotels exclude music during conventions, expositions and campaign events.”

ASCAP suggests campaigns obtain the public performance licenses. But that still may not be the end of trouble for the candidate if the artist simply does like him or her. There are other ways an artists can sue, including for what’s called the “right of publicity.”

“Many states in the Unites States recognize something called the right of publicity, which confers on anybody, the right to prevent the unauthorized use of your name, or likeness, or other indicia of identity. And that could include your voice as captured in a recording,” Cotter said.

There is a bit of gray area when it comes to artists challenging candidates because there has been no major appellate court decision. Usually artists do not sue. And when they do, the suit settles.

One of the cases to go the furthest was a suit against Newt Gingrich when he used “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne. Still, the suit settled.


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