It’s political convention time once again and that means more intellectual property drama! This political season has already given us trademark disputes involving cease and desist letters and living person name registrations. Now we have copyright issues – specifically, music copyright issues. Politicians and political parties often choose popular music as the background for their conventions. Convention organizers and ad makers use music to convey a certain tone or underscore a particular message.

Music Copyright Issues

Artist Complaints

And with their use of that music comes complaints from artists who are concerned about the unauthorized use or implied association of the artist with a political message. This campaign cycle is no different than any other, with artists complaining about the use of their music. More often than not, those complaints are simply based on the fact that the artist does not want to be associated with a given politician or political party through the use of their music. But sometimes, those complaints are generated because the politician or political party in question did not obtain the appropriate license to use the music in the first place.


Music – in both written and recorded form – is subject to copyright protection. To use music in a public performance or in an advertisement, one must obtain a license to do so. In addition to complaints from artists, this campaign cycle already gave rise to at least one copyright infringement lawsuit – a case against the Ted Cruz campaign for using music in a political ad where the terms of the license expressly excluded its use in political advertisements. But even in instances where licenses have been properly obtained, politicians may decide against the use of a particular song in the face of mounting artist complaints, especially when those complaints are set to music created on a popular late night comedy show.

Join Antigone Peyton and Jennifer Atkins as they discuss the music copyright issues raised by the 2016 campaign and the ways politicians can avoid the public controversies and artists can exert more control over the use of their music.

Photo credit: Nan Palermo