It Ain't About the Cash
October 9, 2008
This is not, despite what it will seem like at first, a political post about McCain - it's about artists' rights management.

As an artist and writer, I've been highly surprised by the amount of - for now let's call it copyright infringement - by the McCain campaign. (Obama's campaign, apparently is not completely innocent, but it's only happened once that I've heard of.)

I first heard about this issue much earlier this year when John Mellencamp asked McCain to stop using his music at McCain rallies. It stuck in my head because it seemed 1) stupid for McCain's campaign to use music without permission and 2) particularly stupid for McCain's people to use John Mellencamp's music. I can't imagine Mellencamp backing McCain.

Later, we all heard about the use of the song "Barracuda" during the Republican National Convention and Heart members requesting that the McCain campaign not use their song. Jackson Browne actually filed a lawsuit claiming damages agains the McCain campaign for using his song, "Running on Empty." Now the Foo Fighters are livid over the McCain campaign using their song "Our Country."

Either the McCain campaign doesn't give a rat's ass about copyright law or ... something else is going on.

I suspect it's something else. It's happened too many times and been too public ... and not a little embarrassing ... for this to be completely intentional flouting of copyright.

I suspect it's the method in which performance licensing is sold.

Check this out - bmi.com - go on, I'll wait. Leave it open a sec and check out that bottom area of the site. The grey box down there at the bottom. The second column there says Licensing. And the first entry under that is "Need a license?"

Ahhh, I bet our problem lies here. In fact, you might just look at this as well.

You see, if you want to use a particular recording artist's music, you don't go talk to his people. You start with a company like BMI. (Commenter R.E. Wolf points out that ASCAP is the other one - thanks, I can't believe I forgot that one.) You go apply for a license, pay the fee - and BMI pays the artist.

It works great most of the time.

Until you as the artist discover your work being used to represent or endorse someone or something you disagree with.

My guess is that the artists and the McCain campaign have fallen victim to a system which has grown too large and complacent to adequately represent its artists' needs any more. Either big-name groups like Foo Fighters, John Mellencamp, Heart and Jackson Browne simply get too many requests for performance rights for BMI or ASCAP to do more than rubber stamp requests which pay up in full without the artist even knowing who bought the rights - or perhaps these artists are not following up on the paperwork quickly enough to realize that the rights have been sold to someone they don't want having the rights.

To me, this is another reason why getting too big is just not a good thing. Sure, we tend to think bigger is better (I'm from Texas, remember), but having a lot doesn't mean you have a lot of quality. Just look at how many burgers McDonald's has sold. Loads of quantity, crap for quality. Sure, they have made loads of money ... but they've also helped lower our expectations for good and healthy food. (Yes, we are still ultimately responsible for what we choose to put into our bodies - Mickey-D's has not forced us to become fat and unhealthy.)

Having the most does not mean we win. And I think we're seeing that culture of greed play out in the stock market and the mortgage market right now.

When I bought my car three years ago, Capital One offered me a loan of up to $29,000 for a new car. Great good gods, people, I could not afford the car payment on $29,000! That's a freaking small HOUSE! (Okay, a small house in a depressed area, but still.) Instead, I sat down and figured out what I could make as a car payment and then figured out how much money that meant I could borrow.

If I had taken them up on the full amount of that loan, I would be car-less now. I have been able to meet all of my bills despite losing my job 15 months ago. A $29,000 car would have been repossessed by now. The loaner would have lost money because they offered me far more than I could afford. Yes, they stood to make more money by offering me more - more interest for them.

But that's what I mean ... it's not smart to offer someone a loan they probably can't pay back. It might pay off big, but likely it will blow up in your face instead.

And, it's not smart for any licensing company to sell the rights to pieces to any political campaign or a group involved with a controversial issue without first checking with the artist - even if that's not SOP for the average Joe. It's not about the cash.

It's about being ethical.

Posted by Red Monkey at October 9, 2008 11:21 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

 

Anthony Fuller said:

The local rock station in Detroit (WRIF) was discussing this today. It appears that the McCain campaign, along with the Obama one, have purchased a large blanket of rights to songs, which happen to include Mellencamp and the Foo Fighters. So while the artists have every right to ask the campaigns to stop playing songs, there is no copyright violation or legal recourse for them.

My own personal thoughts - If someone prefers you don't use their music, they be polite and stop.

Red Monkey says: Yep, that's pretty much what I hypothesized here. Thanks for the confirmation.
October 9, 2008 2:49 PM

 

r.e.wolf said:

The other licensing entity is ASCAP.

Red Monkey says: Oh thanks so much. I can't believe I forgot ASCAP, duh.
October 9, 2008 7:36 PM

 

Tara R. said:

It would also seem to be a good campaign practice to not choose a song by an artist who so vehemently opposes your campaign. That just seems like borrowing unnecessary problems.

October 9, 2008 9:51 PM

 

timethief said:

After months of running a filthy smear campaign against Obama, rather than addressing the actual issues, I'd be surprised if any musician would want the McCain goon squad to use their music.

October 10, 2008 11:12 PM
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