Politicians should seek permission before playing music


Opinions editor John Kesler (The DVC Inquirer)

John Kesler

On February 1st, rapper K’naan began to file legal action against the Mitt Romney campaign. The reason? The campaign played his World Cup hit, “Wavin‘ Flag,” during political events.

While the campaign was legally in the right thanks to a blanket license (a fee paid to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers which allows the use of any song), they still decided to stop playing “WavinFlag.” When interviewed by MTV about the incident, K’naan said,”Mitt Romney makes the sort of statements that are the antithesis of the very music that I make.”

This wouldn’t be interesting if this was the only time it happened. Similar cases happened with the band Heart and Sarah Palin in 2008, George W. Bush and Tom Petty in 2000, and amusingly Ronald Reagan and Bruce Springsteen in 1984, after Reagan said that America’s future “rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen,” as quoted in Rolling Stone. Keep in mind that Springsteen’s anthemic 1984 single “Born in the U.S.A.” is about the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans.

So why would these artists disapprove of their music being played to large audiences at political rallies? According to Rolling Stone, when Bush used Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” during his campaign, Randall Wixen of Wixen Music Publishing (which publishes Petty’s music), wrote a letter to the campaign, noting that “Any use made by you or your campaign creates […] the impression that you and your campaign have been endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true.”

I agree with Wixen on this issue. If I were running for the position of ASDVC president and I had some Wu-Tang Clan play after I spoke, wouldn’t it seem like I was being endorsed by the Wu-Tang Clan? In addition, I’m pretty sure there are some geniuses out there who would vote based only on a perceived celebrity endorsement.

I understand that the candidates need stirring classic rock songs to pump up the audience and to come across as easy to relate, but they should seek the artist’s permission before using their song. While campaigns can and should obtain a blanket license to make sure that songwriters get paid for public performances of their music, it should ultimately be up to the artist to say how their music should be used.