Answers on the Copyright Flap

Last week there were several articles and blog posts alleging the McCain campaign was using artist’s intellectual property in violation of copyright protections. I decided to ask the people who would know, BMI and ASCAP. So far, ASCAP has not responded, but this morning I got a response from Jerry W. Bailey, BMI Senior Director, Media Relations & Business Communications. First, the question I asked:

I have a question about licensing music to be played at live events, such as political or corporate events. It is my understanding that if the producer of the event secures a license with BMI or ASCAP for the event, they can use any music they want (within the limits of the license) at the live event, so long as it is not synched to any edited video.

Assuming that this is true, what is your organization’s position on calls from artists for the McCain Campaign to stop using their songs as reported in the link below?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/05/heart-van-halen-orleans-j_n_124264.html

Mr. Bailey responded:

The Republican National Convention and Sen. McCain are licensed to perform the 6.5 million musical works in the BMI repertoire at their campaign events. Songwriters and artists are free to protest if they don’t want their songs used in such a way at these events. When music is synchronized to video, or when songs are played to the extent that they become identified with a person or product, additional copyright questions may arise that don’t involve BMI. It appears to me that your understanding of these copyright issues is generally accurate.

So, there it is, McCain is doing nothing wrong or illegal with respect to the copyright as it pertains to the interests protected by BMI.

If the McCain campaign doesn’t abide by the artist’s requests to not use a song, they may sue the RNC or McCain’s campaign. This doesn’t have anything to do with the BMI license; it goes to people identifying the song with McCain, or vise-versa.

It would take multiple viewings of events, coupled with the same song being played over and over to identify a song with a person or vise-versa. This is where Broadcast complicates matters. Broadcast takes this “more intimate” situation of the live event, and sends it to potentially millions of people around the world on a seemingly endless loop, that, can eventually lead to a song being identified with a candidate, and possibly angering the artist in question.

The solution is two-fold: 1. Immediately stop using songs by artists who have requested that you stop. The last thing you want to have to do is have any kind of conversation with the likes of Lars Ulrich of Metallica, that petulant prick who is probably a McCain supporter anyway. 2. Before you do another round of big events contact the artists’ whose songs you want to use and find one that likes you. This may be hard for the McCain campaign, as there is no national organization of musicians that shows any support for McCain except for this tool. Maybe he has some songs. If not, I suggest a royalty free library.

For my part, I’m torn. On the one hand, I want McCain to keep pissing off musicians, and those musicians to band together to start thumping him on the head publicly and frequently. It would be cool to see someone say, “John McCain doesn’t respect my property, what makes you think he’ll respect yours?” On the flip side, I don’t want even the douchiest musicians to suffer any loss of intellectual property, or worse, have their song associated with someone that they don’t want it to be associated with. Whether you like the song or not, it belongs to someone, and they’re well within their rights to protect it.

So, there ya go. The only way McCain mucks this up is by continuing to play the songs by artists that have asked him to stop. Sounds simple enough…we’ll see.

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