Frequently, news coverage of political campaigns and events focuses on speeches, a war of who said what, and campaign endorsements. One element that seems to be left out or simply overlooked is music. When thinking about music as a campaign tool it is important to reflect on what music is used during campaign events, why are these songs used, and what are the implications?

Some of the most popular songs used in campaigns include “Born Free” by Kid Rock, used by Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential campaign, “This Land is my Land” by Woody Guthrie, used by George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign, and “You and I” by Celine Dion, used by Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign. These songs were chosen based on their lyrical content. Oftentimes presidential candidates used them as a way to “introduce” themselves to the crowd.

These songs worked because they were familiar and hyped the crowd up, but more often than not, these song choices put campaigns and candidates at risk: artists would sue presidential campaigns for their song use over copyright law. However, these song wars resulted in media exposure, but losses for many artists due to different legal protections in place at certain venues. One notable protection is ASCAP, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, which allows for presidential candidates to obtain a license for public performance. In addition to that, many convention locations also have a similar license in place at individual venues.

According to the ASCAP website, although presidential candidates might not violate copyright law, they might violate other things such as the “Right of Publicity,” an image protection law, “The Lanham Act,” which covers unauthorized use of a trademark, or “False Endorsement,” where song use might allude artist support of a candidate. The “False Endorsement” act is one that many artists express frustration towards, as it is difficult to prove in a legal court. Regardless, song usage is serious business not only in terms of the legal implications, but also in terms of their importance in presidential campaigns, as many songs can become a presidential candidate’s trademark throughout the course of their campaign. Music has the opportunity to excite, elicit certain emotions, and stay in your mind. Once a song is linked with a presidential candidate, I’m sure the candidate and the song might stay in your mind, too.

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