Top ten political thefts of music
There's a certain political group that pays a lot of lip service to individual property rights -- raise your hand if this sounds familiar: Lower taxes, gun ownership, capitalism! As it turns out, there seems to be one aspect of individual property that certain group does not seem to respect: intellectual property.
With campaign season ramping up, politicians are appropriating songs to spread their message, and for a lot of them, "appropriating" means "stealing." Not all of them sport an "R" next to their name, but, well, most of them do. Here's our top ten of artist-politician faceoffs.
10. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky, U.S. Senate candidate) v. Rush Rush was not feeling the spirit of Rand Paul's Senate run when the band sent a cease-and-desist letter to Paul for his use of "Spirit of Radio" in an online campaign ad. Paul might get some kudos for diverging some from the classic-rock hit-parade (most don't), but when he dismissed the order as trivial and said the song amounted to "background music," he most likely didn't ingratiate himself much with the band.
09. Marco Rubio (R-Florida, U.S. Senate candidate) v. Steve Miller Band When Marco Rubio used "Take the Money and Run" to attack Florida Governor Charlie Crist, his Senate primary rival, he apparently took the song and ran, since he hadn't asked Steve Miller to use it. Although never known as a particularly cerebral songwriter, Miller got a good zing in when he suggested that Rubio "learn more about publishing law and intellectual property rights" in the cease-and-desist letter.
08. Charlie Crist (R-Florida, U.S. Senate candidate) v. David Byrne Turns out, Rubio got off easy with that cease and desist, because when his then-primary opponent Charlie Crist used Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere" to attack Rubio, songwriter David Byrne slapped him with a lawsuit for $1 million. Having ceded the primary to Rubio and now running as an Independent, Crist, it seems, may be on the same road.
07. Joe Walsh (R-Illinois, U.S. Congressional candidate) v. Joe Walsh Perhaps Joe Walsh the politician thought his name entitled him to modify Joe Walsh the musician's "Walk Away" as a campaign anthem, but he was wrong. Not quick to defer, politician Walsh fought musician Walsh's cease and desist for about a month, claiming that his modification was protected under an intellectual property precedent that allows for parody. His adaptation, however, did not "parody" the original song so much as "use it for political gain," and the video featuring the song was eventually removed from the website.
06. Chuck Devore (R-California, U.S. Senate Candidate) v. Don Henley In a similar case, California Senate candidate Chuck Devore modified Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" to mock Barack Obama ("Hope of November"). Not content with Henley's cease-and-desist on that one, Devore then modified another Henley song to mock Senate opponent Barbara Boxer ("All She Wants to do is Dance" to "All She Wants to do is Tax"), and that time, Henley took him to court. Again, precedent protects parody, but only if it parodies the original work -- not something else. Devore lost both his Senate bid and the suit.
05. Barack Obama (D-Illinois, Presidential candidate) v. Sam Moore The lone Democrat on our list, Barack Obama probably thought he was safe using Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" without permission as a rally song, since artists hardly ever sue liberals. Turns out, Obama should have checked the facts first -- songwriter Sam Moore's Republican-musician credentials were well established when he modified his hit "Soul Man" to "Dole Man" during Bob Dole's 1996 Presidential bid (interestingly, Moore's publisher, which owned the rights to "Soul Man," put a stop to that). Moore hit Obama with a cease-and-desist.
04. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska, Vice-Presidential candidate) v. Heart Heart sister Nancy and Anne Wilson were nonplussed when then-Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin used their song at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and were even more unhappy when she used it again, in spite of their public request that she not, a couple of months later. The irony, as the Wilson sisters pointed out, was that the "Barracuda" of the song was originally intended to represent the ruthless corporate interests of the music industry. Palin used it to represent herself. Parallel?
03. George W. Bush (R-Texas, Presidential candidate) v. Tom Petty When Tom Petty threatened to sue George W. Bush in 2000 for his unauthorized use of "I Won't Back Down" at campaign appearances, Bush, well, he backed down. And to make his political affiliations clear, Petty famously went on to play the same song (with Tipper Gore on drums) at opposing candidate Al Gore's house on the eve of Gore's concession speech -- ironically, as Gore was, well, "backing down."
02. John McCain (R-Arizona, Presidential candidate) v. Jackson Browne John McCain could get no love from artists during his 2008 Presidential campaign -- the list of artists who issued cease-and-desist orders against him for use of their songs includes ABBA, Chuck Berry, Foo Fighters, Van Halen and a bunch of others -- but the only one to actually take McCain to court was Jackson Browne, for the McCain campaign's unauthorized use of "Running on Empty" to mock Obama's energy policy. The suit lasted past the Presidential run into 2009, when McCain settled out-of-court, and issued a public apology to Browne. McCain's repeat-offender status makes him one of the most egregious song-stealers on this list.
01. Ronald Reagan (R-Incumbent Presidential candidate) v. Bruce Springsteen Perhaps the most famous example of a politician illegally appropriating (or misappropriating) a song ever, Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign used Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." as a theme song until Springsteen insisted they stop. But what makes this particular cease-and-desist so famous is not the theft of the song per se, but Reagan's hilariously inept misreading of it: A scathing indictment of the Vietnam War and its consequences for blue-collar America, featuring lyrics like "Come back home to the refinery/Hiring man says, son, if it was up to me," Springsteen's workingman's opus was about as far away from an endorsement of Reagan's policies as you could get.