Can a band stop a politician from using its song at a public event?

Music and politics have been in the news together most recently when the band Survivor objected to the use of its iconic song “Eye of the Tiger” by Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk of Court Kim Davis.

If a politician – or anyone else, for that matter – wants to use a song at an event, a license is required.  Many venues such as hotels, convention centers and arenas have blanket “public performance” licenses from performing rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, but those licenses exclude music used during conventions, political campaign events, etc.  Anyone holding such an event and using music should obtain a public performance license for the event.  Obtaining such a license would ensure compliance with copyright law.

But is copyright law the only issue?  What if the recording artist, like Survivor, doesn’t want its music used by a particular person or event?  Even if a proper public performance license has been obtained, the artist could attempt to hold the persons using the song liable for violations of the band’s “right of publicity” under state law, violation of the federal Lanham Act for unauthorized use of a trademark (such as a band’s name), or for “false endorsement” under state law.

Even if a public performance license is obtained, using a recording of the appearance containing the song on a website or TV ad would require additional licensing, and failure to obtain such licenses could lead to a lawsuit,  as the Newt Gingrich campaign discovered – courtesy of the publisher of “Eye of the Tiger” – in 2012.

So, if you’re an artist who doesn’t want your song used by a political campaign, you’ve got ammo to stop it.  If you’re a politician or staffer who wants to use a song in your political campaign, know what licenses you need and whose permission you should request. Need help with either?  Contact Chris Riser.