Eric T. Kasper & Benjamin S. Schoening on “The Law and Politics Surrounding Presidential Candidates’ Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Songs”

“I Won’t Back Down,” or Will I?: The Law and Politics Surrounding Presidential Candidates’ Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Songs

by Eric T. Kasper, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Benjamin S. Schoening, University of North Georgia

PSC49_01In 2000, George W. Bush used multiple songs while running for president, including Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” (Boucher 2000). In the song, Petty explains how he will not be defeated by various obstacles. The song’s hook, which is the same as the title, presented Bush as someone who would stand up for his principles, so playing the song initially seemed advantageous to the campaign. But Bush overlooked the following: Petty held differing political beliefs from the presidential candidate, and Bush had not secured permission to use the song from Petty, the copyright holder. Consequently, Petty sent Bush a cease and desist letter. With this bad publicity and the threat of a lawsuit looming, the Bush campaign did “back down” and stopped using the song (MTV News 2000).

Many presidential candidates have become embroiled in public controversies for appropriating songs without permission. Below we briefly review the history of presidential campaign music, demonstrating that candidates play songs as an important way to express political messages and have altered the way they use music in response to technological and legal changes. Subsequently, we explore how some modern candidates have encountered difficulties by playing songs without legal permission and why this phenomenon is now more common. Finally, we explain how candidates who use music without permission often cause damaging media battles or legal disputes, ultimately defeating the purpose of using the music. Read the full article here.

John Oliver and a few well-known recording artists discourage politicians from using their songs on the campaign trail without permission. Watch his video below.

PS: Political Science & Politics / Eric T. Kasper and Benjamin S. Schoening (2016). “I Won’t Back Down,” or Will I?: The Law and Politics Surrounding Presidential Candidates’ Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Songs / Volume 49 / Issue 01 / January 2016, pp 53-58 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016