For entertainment law practitioners, politics and the political season isn’t just about getting inundated with information, along with most Americans, about The Donald, The Doctor, Hillary, or the Bern. It may turn, instead, into an angry call from a creative client, demanding that some kind of legal action be taken to stop someone or some group from using a composer’s music, a lyricist’s words, or a film maker’s or photographer’s images and visual-sound displays.
So let’s see, so far the outraged creatives have included: members of the band Survivor, upset over use of their song, Eye of the Tiger at a rally for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issues licenses so gay couples may be wed; musicians from R.E.M., angry at Donald Trump for using It’s the End of the World (as We Know It); and rocker Neil Young, blasting Trump, again, for Rockin in the Free World.
Performance rights groups and licensing
A tip of the hat to the Atlantic and Public Knowledge for pointing out that the artistic distress and distemper may be misplaced: If creatives and their copyrighted works are covered by the major performance rights organizations, aka ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, rules exist for licensing and use of this intellectual property, and, notwithstanding political or philosophic objections, artists can’t easily cherry pick who gets to use the material. (Here are guidelines from the industry group RIAA. And here’s what ASCAP advises.)
What’s less clear, amid all the strum and drang about politicians and their use of powerful, moving, anthemic tunes — hey, didn’t the long-hairs like George Fredrick Handel write stuff for the glorification of kings? — is whether the politicos really think through their choice of compositions. HBO’s admittedly satirical political program Veep (see Episode 38 where bumbling Jonah and Richard get to decide the music to bring on President Meyers’ new running mate at a rally) suggests that not many synapses fire on this account.
Entertainment lawyers, of counsel, to politicos?
So maybe there’s a role for consulting Entertainment Law counsel to advise politicos on topics like rally music licensing? Hmm, that might not be a job big across the political spectrum, considering the reported findings of a recent academic study, with serious bona fides (authors from Stanford, Chicago, and Harvard) about determining lawyers’ partisan leanings. It seems that Los Angeles lawyers are more liberal than many of their colleagues across the country; practitioners of Entertainment Law tend to fall on the far left of the spectrum — along with law school professors.