GOP copyright piracy

The Bush administration and Republicans in general have acted and talked tough about copyright violations. It's not just Republicans, either. Some scumbag Democrats are in bed with the RIAA and MPAA and going at it as much as they can as long as the Johns are paying for their services. But it's another case of "Do as I say, not as I do," for the GOP. The McCain campaign has now been tagged at least three times for using copyrighted material in campaign ads and events without the permission of the artists. Jackson Browne is suing them for $1 million for the unauthorized use of "Running on Empty" in a commercial. He doesn't permit his music to be used in any commercials. A Frankie Valli tune was used without permission in another anti-Obama commercial by the McCain campaign and was taken down. The artists of Heart also object to the use of one of their songs in a McCain event, but in this case the artists' wishes don't matter. Their publishers granted permission after the McCain campaign paid a blanket fee for public performance. The good news is that the artists of Heart are donating a portion of the royalties to the Obama campaign.

As for the other two cases, the McCain campaign knows copyright law. They just don't care about the law and obviously intend to get as much out of flouting it as they can until told to stop. I sympathize with them. Bloggers do the same thing. Except for Jackson Browne, who has a principled opposition to having his music exploited in commericials, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the music moguls who are making the fuss, usually with little benefit to the artists. But as Wired points out in their coverage of the GOP piracy incidents, if they do this kind of stuff they shouldn't be expected to prevail in this kind of stuff:

All the while, the party was threatening to sue CafePress for hosting an online venue for vendors to hawk trademarked GOP-related regalia like T-shirts, stickers and portrayals of the elephants. (Wired)

Somewhere it's written, "Those that live by the sword shall die by the sword." As I am sure the GOP will demonstrate, this is another lie from that now impeached source, and they'll get away with this.

But the hypocrisy remains an Eternal Verity.

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I've been fascinated by this issue too. I've not cataloged all the recent instances but I believe you missed at least one, that being Van Halen objecting to the McCain camp's using "Right Now"--an objection the McCain camp has ignored, at least according to this story at Huffington Post.

Although the conflict ostensibly centers on copyright, copyright is an ill-fitting vehicle for what truly bothers the artists--US copyright law anyway. Where US copyright law is based on a system of economic incentives to spur creativity, French copyright law is based on a principle called "moral rights," which, unlike US law, permits artists to assert rights even if they've signed "all" or most of their rights away. Moral Rights is usually asserted when an assignee uses the work in some way that undercuts the artist's original intent--where the danger exists that the audience would mistake the artist's intent.

For Van Halen, Jackson Browne, and Nancy Wilson, the actual problem isn't the lack of a negotiated price for the performance right--in the case of Nancy Wilson, it turns out that the publisher indeed negotiated a price. The problem these artists have is addressed squarely by Moral Rights--Nancy Wilson would be able to effectively veto her publisher by disallowing the McCain camp to use her work.

Although Moral Rights is not really recognized by US copyright law, it's supposed to be. Our entry into the 1989 Berne Copyright Agreement was predicated on our acceptance of Moral Rights into our code. Lip service is paid to Moral Rights in various places in our law (e.g., VARA--Visual Artists Rights Act), but is otherwise effectively ignored.

The economic reasons why the US rejects Moral Rights should be obvious, at least in the music industry, where the RIAA holds so much leverage. Acceptance of Moral Rights would require the RIAA to cede control of its monopoly to artists and their unpredictable whims. And that's not going to happen without a fight.

In the meantime, a campaign's use of an artists' song would be an interesting case to pursue for an objecting artist because it presents a nearly perfect Moral Rights argument. While all works/songs have multiple meanings--the artist's intended meaning plus the collective cultural overlay--a campaign's use of a work recontextualizes it in a very specific manner, and often, as is the case here, in a manner which the author of the work finds offensive. Although every author cedes some degree of control over their work when they publish (e.g., which radio stations can play it), a campaign event is akin to a commercial, and the artist should retain the choice to veto uses which would suggest endorsement, whether that endorsement is of a product or political idea.

shall the parties sign an agreement not to use music
in their campaign !

Saves them money and concentrates the attention
to the political issue.

Same for other things, like...

I can easily imagine future female Presidential campaigns trying to utiliize Kylie Minogue's "The One" (2007).

The current Indonesian Health Minister, Siti Fadilah Supari and Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin ('08 Republican vice-presidential nominee) are both ambitious enough to exploit Leni Riefenstahl-esque/Xanadu-esque pomo cultural tropes:*)

Of course, Kylie Minogue would no doubt sue for millions of Australian dollars:*)

By Jonathon Singleton (not verified) on 08 Sep 2008 #permalink

I think Scott P.'s largely positive thoughts about enforcing "moral rights" by artists creates more problems than it solves. It seems that it would further impinge on "Fair Use" rights.

A good example of this was the music of the U2. When small time rappers and DJ's were sampling large chunks of their music (and it was hip) they were very generous and never sought payment or control. However, when Negativland sampled U2, a long and embarassing (and decidedly unhip) legal battle ensued. I am not interested in debating the merits of the works, but I am pointing out that any critical work is treated differently than flaterring work in the "moral rights" realm. This is bad for art and free speech.

Back to the campaign music issue, I think it was funny a dozen or so years ago when Daft Punk allowed both major campaigns to use the same song in the French election.

By floormaster squeeze (not verified) on 08 Sep 2008 #permalink

Art is optional. The copyright of software algorithms for 95 years is a functional permanent monopoly. For example, moving to multi-core processors makes much of the software written for the last 40 years obsolete.

The purpose of copyright is not to grant a monopoly but to create wealth that goes into the public domain. If the "wealth" becomes unusable what has been accomplished.

Where are we enriched by granting a monopoly?

Where are we enriched by granting a monopoly?

First, you might not like the law, but it is the law. Second, I don't see that songwriters have any obligation to "enrich us" financially. Third, artists should have some control over how their work is used, particularly when it's used for personal gain.

Other than that, good point.