By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The president and the Boss

A radio station needn’t obtain advance permission before playing a particular song by a particular musician. Same with a nightclub. Under copyright law, you’re free to play copyrighted music as long as you pay a fee.

That goes for politicians, too. In today’s Washington Post, Christopher Sprigman and Siva Vaidhyanathan explain why musicians such as Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, the Foo Fighters and others have no legal basis in objecting to the McCain campaign’s use of their songs. The campaign, they note, has paid its licensing fees, and that should be the end of it. (Via Altercation.)

It’s a free-speech issue, and, as such, we should be just as vigilant against Jackson Browne’s attempt to censor the Republicans as we are about, say, Sarah Palin’s redefinition of freedom of the press as a “privilege.”

The man who wrote the book on how to respond to an unwanted political embrace was Bruce Springsteen. In 1984, Ronald Reagan, running for re-election, gave a shoutout to Springsteen, whose “Born in the U.S.A.” had set off a boomlet of patriotic fervor. Though in actuality it was a bitter antiwar anthem, the upbeat music had confused more than a few conservatives into thinking Bruce had cast his lot with the “Morning in America” crowd.

Shortly thereafter, Springsteen, at a concert in Pittsburgh, introduced his song “Johnny 99” — about an unemployed auto worker-turned-murderer — with this:

The president was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don’t think it was the ‘Nebraska’ album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.

And that was the end of that. (Wikipedia reference verified by my steel-trap memory.)

Update: Looks like some news organizations are pushing an overly restrictive interpretation of copyright law, too — even going so far as to demand that YouTube delete some McCain ads that use news clips.

Photo (cc) by Music Master and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved. And in case you were wondering, yes, that’s a wax figure, not the real Bruce.

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  1. The Arranger

    McCain isn’t getting any love form the “original” Nancy Wilson either. She’s endorsing Obama.“I have always chosen to sing only those songs that speak to me, that resonate with my life and feelings. I am proud to support Barack Obama because he stays true to his core, and stands up for what he knows is right. As a Spokesperson for the National Minority AIDS Council, I work hard to raise AIDS awareness in the African-American communities, and deeply appreciate that Barack talks honestly with our community on this and other issues. I believe Barack can bring our nation together and realize the true promise of America, and that vision, that hope, speaks powerfully to me.” – Nancy WilsonCheck out her work with Cannonball Adderley. Beats “Barracuda” by double-digits.Bob in Peabody

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: Not a fan of jazz vocals, but anything beats Heart.

  3. The Arranger

    All right, just listen to the Cannonball Adderley parts then!Bob in Peabody

  4. mike_b1

    That you in front of the Reagan photo, DK?

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Why? Do I look waxy?

  6. Sean Roche

    How exactly is this a “free-speech issue”?It’s a property-rights issue.By the way, see the comments on this post to see how far ahead one guy was on this issue.

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