Editorial: No sympathy for stealing, politicizing music

  • By The Herald Editorial Board
  • Monday, July 25, 2016 1:30am
  • Opinion

By The Herald Editorial Board

To paraphrase the late Rodney Dangerfield, musicians don’t get no respect! Historically ripped off by music companies and managers, and now the internet, singers and groups remain mired in a decades-long, losing battle to keep politicians and political campaigns from using their music without permission.

(Most recently, the O’Jays, Earth Wind & Fire, Queen, George Harrison’s estate, the Rolling Stones, Adele, Twisted Sister, Neil Young and others were upset with the Trump campaign and/or the Republican National Convention for using music without permission.)

If politicians and campaigns were ethical, and industrious (find another song whose writer would be thrilled with its use) this would not be a problem. They would be embarrassed when famous singers and songwriters speak out against them. But this is politics, and so the issue is seen through a fine-line legal lens instead.

Some singers have sued and won, The Los Angeles Times reported, and some have sued and lost, resulting in no established legal precedent. The issue, The Times explains, “pits two constitutionally protected rights against each other: the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, and Article 1, Section 8 provisions in the Constitution protecting intellectual property rights under U.S. Copyright law.”

Since an average citizen would be required to follow copyright law in order to use a song, it seems reasonable to subject politicians and campaigns to the same law. Which means that music will continue to be used without permission, in steamroller fashion. It’s another David and Goliath situation, as most musicians don’t have the fortunes needed for a legal fight. Singers and groups might have more success by banding together, for a kind of class-action suit.

Just as much as the illegal use of their material, musicians are saddened and maddened by the use of songs whose meaning is lost when used politically. The two founding members of the O’Jays objected to the use of their 1973 song “Love Train” at the GOP convention, and which was changed on one of its social media sites to “Trump Train,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

“Our music, and most especially, ‘Love Train’ is about bringing people together, not building walls,” said Walter Williams.

It would be helpful for anyone wanting to use a song for any purpose to really study the lyrics first. For some reason, the Trump campaign (without permission), and a PetSmart commercial tying-in with the movie, “The Secret Life of Pets” (with permission) both use the Rolling Stones song, “Sympathy for the Devil.”

It’s wildly inappropriate and unfair to associate it with pets. If Trump finds it appropriate, fine, but it does seem like the last song in the world one would want to use without permission. What if the Rolling Stones made an ironclad deal with the devil?

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