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The Politics of Copyright and Music on the Campaign Trail

© 2012 Ami Patel (student contributor)

Credit: AP

If the beginning of endless commercials didn’t give it away, it’s that time again – presidential campaign season. If there is one thing history has shown us, it’s that campaigns shouldn’t use an artist’s song without permission.  Then again, there are many lessons that candidates fail to learn on the campaign trail.

The most recent of these cases involves Mitt Romney, who was recently sent a cease and desist letter for using the Silversun Pickups song “Panic Switch” during his campaign.  He should have learned his lesson after numerous other presidential candidates used music without authorization from an artist and sparked a controversy in the process.

History is littered with candidates who used an artist’s song for campaign purposes.  Many times the artist does not approve of the work being appropriated because they do not wish to be associated with the candidate. This is true in the current situation between the Silversun Pickups and Romney, and is this is also the case in most of these conflicts.  Brian Aubert, the singer/guitarist for the Silversun Pickups stated, “We don’t like people going behind our backs, using our music without asking, and we don’t like the Romney campaign. We’re nice, approachable people. We won’t bite. Unless you’re Mitt Romney!”

Since there is room for debate on both sides on whether a campaign playing an artist’s song rises to the level of copyright infringement, I will leave it up to you to decide for yourself where you stand on the issue.  While the latest issue involving Mitt Romney’s campaign is not the first, and probably not the last time this issue will present itself, it continues to raise interesting questions regarding copyright law.  Until this issue is decided in court, the debate about this practice will continue.

For more information on Mitt Romney’s use of the Silversun Pickups’ song, click here.

About Ami Patel

Ami Patel is a cum laude 2009 honors distinction graduate of Drexel University with concentrations in international business and legal studies. She has worked at a corporate law firm in Philadelphia and has done a great deal of work with trademarks. Currently, she is a third year student at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and has served as a student representative for the Student Bar Association.

Upon graduation, Ms. Patel plans on working in the field of corporate law focusing on franchises, copyright licensing, distribution and trademark.

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