Presidential Hopefuls Historically Steal Music to use as Political Propaganda
Text by Dawoud Kringle
Musicians in the USA have often been the victim of political candidates appropriating their music for the purpose of campaigning and propaganda. This is always done without the artist’s permission.
Several past examples: In 1996, Isaac Hayes told the Bob Dole campaign to stop using a perverted version of his classic song “I’m a Soul Man” (“I’m a Dole Man”) in his campaign. In 1998, Bobby McFerrin demanded George H.W. Bush stop using his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” On several occasions, Bruce Springsteen demanded that republicans such as Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan stop using his song “Born in the USA” for their political ends. Tom Petty made the same demand of George W. Bush, and Michele Bachmann. Heart demanded that Sarah Palin stop using their song “Barracuda.” In 2008, Jackson Browne took out a lawsuit against John McCain, the Ohio Republican Party and the RNC for their use of “Running on Empty.” McCain also used the Foo Fighter‘s song “You’re my Hero” without the band’s permission.
Apparently, musicians are not as susceptible to flattery as some may think. When Paul Ryan declared Rage Against the Machine to be one of his favorite bands, RATM guitarist Tom Morello responded by saying “Paul Ryan is the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.”
One interesting twist was when Sarah Palin appropriated Gretchen Peter‘s song “Independence Day” without the artist’s permission. Instead of issuing a cease and desist letter, Peters donated the entire election season royalties from “Independence Day” to Planned Parenthood and encouraged others to make donations under the name “Sarah Palin.” During that period, Planned Parenthood raised over a million dollars.
The 2016 presidential election is certainly no different.
The one man political freak show and potential tyrant Donald Trump has a long record of illegally appropriating music by musicians who want nothing to do with him. He illegally used Adele’s songs “Skyfall” and “Rolling in the Deep.” Steven Tyler of Aerosmith sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump telling him to immediately halt use of the band’s song “Dream On.” Allee Willis‘ song “You’re the Best” was used during Trump’s campaign stops, again, without the artist’s permission. After Trump used Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World,” the musician immediately released a statement declaring that Trump was not authorized to use the song. Young then turned around and offered Bernie Sanders use of his music during his campaign. Sanders took him up on the offer, and used the very song Trump was told to stop using. A fitting end game.
Another republican, Marco Rubio has stated that he is an aficionado of electronic dance music. However, Axwell and Ingrosso sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rubio, who has been using their song, “Something New.” They told Business Insider magazine last April that they didn’t give their permission for this song to be used and don’t want to be affiliated with any party in the upcoming presidential race.
This phenomenon is not confined to republicans. Punk rock legend, founding member of Bikini Kill, and staunch Bernie Saunders supporter Tobi Vail sent a copyright infringement complaint to YouTube over use of the song “Rebel Girl” in a pro-Hillary Clinton advertisement made by Eric Wing and Stacey Sampo (two staunch Clinton supporters). Vail told the publication Death and Taxes that she sent the complaint because “we don’t authorize use of our songs in advertisements.” She explained that Bikini Kill collectively owns their entire catalog including songwriting rights, and a unanimous agreement of all members would be required before permission would be given to use their music.
After Clinton campaign head John Podesta tweeted the video one Daily Kos blogger stated that a rebel girl does not serve on Walmart’s board of directors, does not attack unions, nor submits to the military-industrial complex and cast votes for wars that accomplish no useful political objective. The video has since been taken down.
The situation is indicative of the deplorable state of affairs musicians suffer. It’s clear that politicians have, at heart, absolute contempt for us. They truly believe they can use our work without compensation, and without our permission. Musicians would be well advised to take this into serious consideration when casting their vote.