Using music in political campaigns

Say you’re running for office. Naturally you want to play some upbeat music at your rallies and speeches and stuff. Do you have to get permission from the people who own the rights to the song?

I remember hearing about Bobby McFerrin getting upset with the Bush-Quayle campaign using “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as their campaign song (as he was NOT a supporter) and being surprised that they didn’t clear it with him or his people. Clinton, of course, used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow,” Perot used Patsy Cline’s song “Crazy,” etc.

Unless the composer has sold the rights, yes, you need permission. Birch Bayh (Evan’s dad) bought the rights to “Hey, Look Me Over” from Meridith Wilson for his senatorial campaign. Ronald Reagan’s campaign ignorantly wanted to use Springsteen’s bitter anthem, “Born In The USA.” Bruce said no.

ETA: Willie Nelson wrote “Crazy”, but I don’t know if he retained the rights.

There was a controversy a number of years ago n which generally useless politician Stockwell Day used a group’s song (I don’t remember the band, but the song was called “A New Day” – groan) without permission during his bid for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, and the band reacted angrily.

Depends on what you mean by “play some music”.

If you want to play a recording of a song performed by some group, then, yes, you will have to get their permission to play their recording at a public event. And probably have to pay them something, too.

If you want to have some hired musicians play a copyrighted song, you do NOT have to get permission from the copyright owner. But you do have to pay them to do this, based on a default rate set. (Generally, people do get their permission, because the rate most copyright owners charge is less than the default rate.)

I don’t think so. You always have the right to play any song for free and without needing permission. It’s only when you record a version of the song and put it up for sale that you need to pay royalties to the songwriter or publisher if someone else owns the rights. You’re confusing a mechanical license with live performance rights.

If a candidate wanted to hire a band to play a song, then he or she could do so without asking or paying.

This is incorrect. If you are making a public performance of a song, you need to pay royalties. Most performance venues have general licences with the big music rights licensing organizations (BMI & ASCAP) which cover songs played or performed there, but without a license, you cannot publically perform a copyrighted song.

I checked and ASCAP’s limitations are much more stringent than I had remembered. You’re correct.

See …

This is interesting. How do small bands in small venues get away with it?
Sorry for the hijack.

Your corner tavern that local garage bands play in may very well have an ASCAP (or BMI) license which allows anything in the catalog to be performed on the premises. ASCAP has a very complex sliding scale, and small venues may get get a license for a manageable price. Since the venue pays it, often the cover bands may not even be terribly aware of the issue. If you look closely, you may find an ASCAP sticker displayed somewhere on the premises. A bar owner that has bands in on a Saturday night and DOESN’T get the license is risking a lawsuit from ASCAP or BMI.