August 13, 2020

Billboard Quotes Alex Weingarten on the Use of Popular Music by Presidential Campaigns

2 min

On August 13, 2020, Alex Weingarten was quoted in Billboard regarding creators’ objections to the use of their songs during political events, and the increased likelihood of litigation during the 2020 presidential election.

According to the article, it is not uncommon for a candidate to play a song at a rally, for the creator of the song to object to its use, and the creator’s lawyer to then send a cease-and-desist letter. Traditionally, that’s where the issue ends. Most candidates are reluctant to alienate songwriters, even though the public performance licenses they have - from ASCAP or BMI, for example - usually allow them to play their compositions. However, the 2020 presidential campaign is far from normal, with the coronavirus pandemic pushing most political events online.

Online music licensing is particularly complicated. To stream footage of a rally with music, a campaign would usually need a public performance license and a synch license, plus permission to use a recording - unless the video is available on demand. In that case, it would also need a mechanical license. It may be considered fair use, but that depends on context. For example, a campaign ad might need to license music, while news coverage of a rally probably wouldn’t.

All of this could be complicated further by President Trump’s reputation for litigiousness. “Normally people would think, ‘If I’m being criticized by this artist whose music I’m using, that’s bad,'” says Weingarten. ”Those conventions no longer apply to this candidate.”