5 Rock Stars Who've Blasted Politicians for Misusing their Songs

September 9th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

R.E.M. became the latest band to slam a political candidate for using one of their songs. Their hit, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" played as GOP front-runner Donald Trump entered the stage at his Stop the Iran Deal Rally in Washington, D.C., prompting R.E.M. members to issue statements Wednesday via social media.

"While we do not authorize or condone the use of our music at this political event, and do ask that these candidates...

Posted by R.E.M. on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The band's statement follows another much-publicized instance of a song used for its tone and purported message in the wrong setting. Following Kim Davis' release from jail Tuesday, the embattled Kentucky clerk appeared on stage alongside Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and her attorney at a support rally soundtracked by Survivor's 1982 hit "Eye of the Tiger" from the movie "Rocky III."

But shortly after the appearance, some of the band's surviving members expressed their displeasure with the rally's use of the song. Frankie Sullivan, a guitarist who co-wrote the hit, wrote on Facebook that the band did not grant the rights for the song's use.

NO! We did not grant Kim Davis any rights to use "My Tune -The Eye Of The Tiger." I would not grant her the rights to...

Posted by Frankie Sullivan on Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Another Survivor member, Jim Peterik, took to Twitter with the same message and an added threat of a cease and desist order.

CNN reported that although the rally was planned by Huckabee's campaign, the song choice remained a mystery. Other Huckabee events had no history of playing it.

It's neither the first time the Survivor song has been mixed up in politics—Survivor sued former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for using the song at campaign rallies in 2012—nor is it the first time that a pop song at political events has resulted in spats between politicians and unhappy band members.

1. Trump v. Young

Back in June, when GOP frontrunner Donald Trump announced his presidency to a room of reportedly hired actors, he took the stage to the 1989 Neil Young anthem "Rockin' in the Free World." But Young, a Canadian who endorses Bernie Sanders and seems the least likely musician to endorse Trump, objected. "Donald Trump was not authorized to use "Rockin' in the Free World" in his presidential candidacy announcement," Young's manager said.

2. Trump v. R.E.M

In addition to their statement on Facebook, members of R.E.M. took to Twitter with some more direct jabs at the candidate. Using the band's bassist, Mike Mills' Twitter account, lead singer Michael Stipe wrote, "Go fuck yourself, the lot of you--you sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men."

For his part, Mills complained about feeding into the media feedback loop the candidate often finds himself in.

3. Walker v. Boston Punks

Other 2016 campaigns have become the targets of bands whose songs they say have been used without permission.

In January, when Wisconsin gov. Scott Walker appeared onstage at the Iowa Freedom Summit backed by the Celtic-themed punk outfit Dropkick Murphys' song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," the band took to social media to hint at their stance on the matter:

4. Rubio v. Swedes

Marco Rubio also received pushback from the Swedish house duo Axwell and Ingrosso after the GOP hopeful used their track "Something New" at his presidential kickoff rally in April, Business Insider reported.

5. Springsteen vs. Reagan

Many point to a Bruce Springsteen incident in 1984 as the first major use of a song by a politician with whom the musician disagreed. In that case, Springsteen objected to President Ronald Reagan's intention to use "Born in the U.S.A." as a campaign song. Reagan disagreed. "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts," Reagan told a New Jersey crowd at the time. "It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen." It bears mentioning that "Born in the U.S.A.," along with many other artists' songs mentioned above, have messages that run contrary to the given politician's policy platform.

There are many, many other examples

But the tradition traces back through political campaigns of yesteryear. Throughout his tenure in the White House, George W. Bush had run-ins with John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, and Sting. Many other past presidential candidates also ran into conflicts with musicians both during and after those election cycles, as CNN noted earlier this summer: Rick Santorum and Black Sabbath, Venom, The WASP, and Iron Maiden; Sarah Palin and John McCain against the band Heart; Chris Christie with Bruce Springsteen.

But if the practice is that well-worn, why do politicians keep using music that ends up backfiring on their campaigns? As it happens, it's often because they are in legal bounds. As Rolling Stone reported in June:

Technically speaking, copyright laws allow political candidates to use just about any song they want, as long as they're played at a stadium, arena or other venue that already has a public-performance license through a songwriters' association such as ASCAP or BMI.

There are gray areas when it comes to the protection of a musician's "right of publicity," according to Rolling Stone. If a candidate refuses to cease using a song at the artist's request or engages in some other activity that could infringe on that right to protect a public image, they can face legal vulnerabilities, for example, in the cases of Florida Republican Charlie Crist, who was sued by David Byrne, or John McCain, who was sued by Jackson Browne.

"Why does it keep happening? I would say arrogance," an intellectual property lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in those cases told the magazine.