Rosanne Cash, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Aerosmith, More Sign Open Letter Seeking Clearances For Campaign Songs

Rosanne Cash.

Artist-run nonprofit Artist Rights Alliance has teamed with a range of artists including Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell, Aerosmith, Lorde, Mick Jagger, Alanis Morissette, and more, in signing an open letter demanding clearances for the music that political parties use in campaigns and rallies. The ARA and artists signing the letter seek to “establish clear policies requiring campaigns to seek consent of featured recording artists, songwriters, and copyright owners before publicly using their music in a political or campaign setting.”

The coalition addressed the letter to the Democratic and Republican National, Congressional and Senatorial committees.

Artist Rights Alliance said, “We’ve seen so many artists and estates dragged into politics against their will and forced to take aggressive action to prohibit the use of their music—usually songs that are broadcast during political rallies or used in campaign ads. It can confuse and disappoint fans and even undermine an artists’ long-term income—and mostly, it’s just not right. Politicians that want to represent the public trust must do better—by seeking consent before exploiting an artist’s or songwriter’s image and work.

“Many of these artists have spent a lifetime making music that we all know and love. At the very least, it should be their choice—especially in these hyper-partisan times. With so many creators raising concerns about this issue, it is time to take action and ensure our voices are heard.”

Artist Rights Alliance is led by a Board of Directors including Cash, music manager Thomas Manzi, CAKE’s John McCrea, Tift Merritt, producer Ivan Barias, guitar innovator Matthew Montfort, and Maggie Vail. Political strategist and former House of Representatives staff member Ted Kalo serves as the ARA’s Executive Director.

The full letter can be read below:

July 28, 2020

Republican National Committee
310 First St SE
Washington, DC 20003

Democratic National Committee
430 South Capitol St SE #3
Washington, DC 20003

National Republican Senatorial Committee
425 2 nd St NE
Washington, DC 20002

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
120 Maryland Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002

Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee
430 South Capitol St SE
Washington, DC 20003

National Republican Congressional Committee
320 First St SE
Washington, DC 20003

Dear Campaign Committees:

As artists, activists, and citizens, we ask you to pledge that all candidates you support will seek consent from featured recording artists and songwriters before using their music in campaign and political settings. This is the only way to effectively protect your candidates from legal risk, unnecessary public controversy, and the moral quagmire that comes from falsely claiming or implying an artist’s support or distorting an artists’ expression in such a high stakes public way.

This is not a new problem. Or a partisan one. Every election cycle brings stories of artists and songwriters frustrated to find their work being used in settings that suggest endorsement or support of political candidates without their permission or consent.

Being dragged unwillingly into politics in this way can compromise an artist’s personal values while disappointing and alienating fans – with great moral and economic cost. For artists that do choose to engage politically in campaigns or other contexts, this kind of unauthorized public use confuses their message and undermines their effectiveness. Music tells powerful stories and drives emotional connection and engagement – that’s why campaigns use it, after all! But doing so without permission siphons away that value.

The legal risks are clear. Campaign uses of music can violate federal and (in some cases) state copyrights in both sound recordings and musical compositions. Depending on the technology used to copy and broadcast these works, multiple exclusive copyrights, including both performance and reproduction, could be infringed. In addition, these uses impact creators’ rights of publicity and branding, potentially creating exposure for trademark infringement, dilution, or tarnishment under the Lanham Act and giving rise to claims for false endorsement, conversion, and other common law and statutory torts. When campaign commercials or advertisements are involved, a whole additional host of rules and regulations regarding campaign fundraising (including undisclosed and potentially unlawful “in-kind” contributions), finance, and communications could also potentially be breached.

More importantly, falsely implying support or endorsement from an artist or songwriter is dishonest and immoral. It undermines the campaign process, confuses the voting public, and ultimately distorts elections. It should be anathema to any honest candidate to play off this kind of uncertainty or falsely leave the impression of an artist’s or songwriter’s support.

Like all other citizens, artists have the fundamental right to control their work and make free choices regarding their political expression and participation. Using their work for political purposes without their consent fundamentally breaches those rights – an invasion of the most hallowed, even sacred personal interests.

No politician benefits from forcing a popular artist to publicly disown and reject them. Yet these unnecessary controversies inevitably draw even the most reluctant or apolitical artists off the sidelines, compelling them to explain the ways they disagree with candidates wrongfully using their music. And on social media and in the culture at large, it’s the politicians that typically end up on the wrong side of those stories.

For all these reasons, we urge you to establish clear policies requiring campaigns supported by your committees to seek the consent of featured recording artists, songwriters, and copyright owners before publicly using their music in a political or campaign setting. Funding, logistical support, and participation in committee programs, operations, and events should be contingent on this pledge, and its terms should be clearly stated in writing in your bylaws, operating
guidelines, campaign manuals, or where you establish any other relevant rules, requirements, or conditions of support.

Please let us know by August 10th how you plan to accomplish these changes.

Sincerely,

Aerosmith
Alanis Morissette
Amanda Shires
Ancient Future
Andrew McMahon
Artist Rights Alliance
B-52s
Beth Nielsen Chapman
Blondie
Butch Walker
CAKE
Callie Khouri
Courtney Love
Cyndi Lauper
Dan Navarro
Daniel Martin
Moore
Duke Fakir
Elizabeth Cook
Elvis Costello
Erin McKeown
Fall Out Boy
Grant-Lee Phillips
Green Day
Gretchen Peters
Ivan Barias
Jason Isbell
Jewel
Joe Perry
John McCrea
John Mellencamp
Keith Richards
Kurt Cobain estate
Lera Lynn
Lionel Richie
Linkin Park
Lorde
Lykke Li
Maggie Vail
Mary Gauthier
Matt Nathanson
Matthew Montfort
Michelle Branch
Mick Jagger
Okkervil River
Pearl Jam
Panic! At The Disco
Patrick Carney
R.E.M.
Regina Spektor
Rosanne Cash
Sheryl Crow
Sia
Steven Tyler
T Bone Burnett
Tift Merritt
Thomas Manzi
Train

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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