Musicians Who Told Politicians “Don’t Use My Song”

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Campaign songs promoting candidates have been in use since the days of George Washington. Today, rather than dedicated campaign tunes, politicians often use popular hits. But because the use might imply the musician’s support of the candidate, some have asked politicians to stop playing their songs.

In many cases, such as John F. Kennedy’s use of Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes” in 1960, artists approve the use of their music as a means of endorsing or at least subtly signalling their approval of the candidate. Other times, politicians use pop songs without the musicians’ direct approval, often leading to anger and dismay on the side of the songwriter – especially in cases where the songwriter holds opposing political views.

This has been happening with not uncommon frequency going back to Bruce Springsteen’s disapproval of Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984. And it has happened frequently since President Donald Trump began holding rallies some three years ago.

24/7 Wall St. has identified 35 instances of musicians who told politicians to stop using their music. Some emerged victorious while others had less success.

Unfortunately for politicians within the Republican Party, the majority of complaints are made against them. It’s no secret that a large portion of the entertainment industry leans to the left and when right wing politicians use their work to promote policies the creators disagree with it can spell trouble. Musicians will often demand the politicians stop using their music and further use these opportunities to highlight their own, often opposing, political views by either publicly denouncing the politician in public or in the press.

Sometimes a public denouncement is the only way a musician can get a politician to abandon his or her music. Campaigns can procure blanket licenses from performing rights organizations such as American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc., which work as the middlemen between copyright holders and those looking to license songs. And while performers may have no legal recourse, public attacks on the politicians using their music – such as Neil Young’s on stage denunciation of Trump over the latter’s legally cleared use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” – can lead to the song being dropped from rotation.

This is far from a guaranteed method. Elton John is on record in British newspaper “The Guardian” as asking that Trump refrain from playing his songs at rallies, though this has done little to dissuade the president. John McCain similarly continued using Van Halen’s “Right Now” after being asked to cease in 2008 – although vocalist Sammy Hagar broke with the rest of the band by appreciating the song’s usage.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1. Abba
> Song: Take a Chance on Me
> Politician: John McCain
> Outcome:

McCain’s campaign dropped the song after the Swedish band sent them a cease-and-desist letter.

Source: Graham Denholm / Getty Images

2. Adele
> Song: Rolling in the Deep, Skyfall
> Politician: Donald Trump
> Outcome:

While Adele issued a statement that she did not directly grant Trump permission to play her songs, the campaign was undeterred, firing back that they have the legal rights to play them.

Source: Ben A. Pruchnie / Getty Images

3. Aerosmith
> Song: Dream On
> Politician: Donald Trump
> Outcome:

Following a cease-and-desist letter, the licensing company pulled Aerosmith’s songs from the Trump campaign’s blanket license, forcing their removal from musical rotation.

Source: Pool / Getty Images

4. Al Green
> Song: Let’s Stay Together
> Politician: Mitt Romney
> Outcome:

Al Green’s camp issued a copyright infringement complaint against a 2008 Romney ad featuring Obama singing Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” The video was briefly removed from YouTube as a result, but restored following Romney’s defense of “fair use.”

Source: Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

5. Axwell & Ingrosso
> Song: Something New
> Politician: Marco Rubio
> Outcome:

Rubio was forced to abandon the Swedish DJs “Something New” following a cease-and-desist letter. The group stated that they did not wish “to be affiliated with a particular party during the […] presidential race.”