With Election Day rapidly approaching, campaigning has become fierce. From President Donald Trump and Joe Biden down to Congressional, State Legislature and local candidates, everyone is blasting out their “message.” One way politicians like to get their messages across is by music. Snippets of songs create earworms that voters begin to associate with certain candidates — so why wouldn’t a candidate use music in their messaging, especially anthemic songs like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In the Free World,” or Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”?
While candidates love the association a song gives voters, often the artists do not. Every election cycle contains at least a few artist/politician disputes over use of music. How is this controlled and who has the right to control when and by whom music is used politically?
Copyright protects original expressions reduced to tangible form. This includes music, both recorded and written, lyrics, and the song composition or arrangement. For a given piece of music, there may be several different copyright owners — the songwriter may own the lyrics, the composer may own the score, a record label or publisher may own the recorded version of a song. Copyright gives the owner of the expression the right to control copying, distribution and even use of copyrighted material in particular circumstances.