The Answers Are Blowing in the Wind

There are a lot of substantive issues that should be on the minds of the voting age public in the U.S., but if you check out the varied media headlines, you wouldn’t know it. A short list of substantive issues includes the recent rise in unemployment, the projected $500 billion federal budget deficit, the war in Iraq, (costly in human lives and dollars), the 47 million Americans without health insurance, the oil price bingo game that we are all forced to play, and the ever growing national debt ($9.5 trillion and increasing by the minute). However, to my dismay, I find myself choosing to ignore all of those substantive topics to address some of the decoy topics that clutter up the media.

First up is Sarah Palin and the Heart song, Barracuda. It seems that one of Gov. Palin’s nicknames as a high school basketball player as “Barracuda,” and in honor of Palin’s nickname, the Heart song was played on Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, the front-women for the band Heart, didn’t appreciate the appropriation of their song for use as Palin’s theme song and have sent a “cease and desist letter” to the McCain and Palin camp.

I admit that I am a fan of the Wilson sister’s band, Heart, and I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. However, while the Wilson sister’s are within their rights to ask that the Palin campaign cease and desist from use of the song as her theme song, the Palin camp hasn’t violated any copyright laws. Copyright is a tricky thing and it’s not my area of legal expertise, but the one thing that law school stresses is that when you don’t know the answer, do some legal research until you find it. Of course, you may wonder why I would care about this matter at all. I became intrigued because of another article that criticized the Obama camp for appropriating a Brooks and Dunn song, Only in America, to use as Sen. Obama’s exit music at the close of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). As I am a country music fan and a fan of Brooks and Dunn, I thought that it was a brilliant choice based on the song’s chorus:

Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America

There was one little glitch, Brooks and Dunn played the song at G. W. Bush’s inauguration in 2000; Dick Cheney used it as his exit song at the 2004 RNC; and G. W. Bush used it frequently during his last campaign for office. I didn’t have a problem with Obama re-purposing the song for his campaign; however, not everyone felt that magnanimous. Both of the performers, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn declare themselves to be Republicans, although one of the song’s co-writers, Don Cook, identifies himself as a Democrat.

Given that I find hypocrisy abhorrent, I had to ask myself, how could I side with Heart in their opposition to Palin’s use of their song unless I was going to also condemn Obama for siphoning off Brooks and Dunn’s song for his campaign purposes? As I was reading other blogs dealing with these song appropriation issues, I kept encountering a basic misunderstanding regarding copyright law and use provisions. I realized that if I did a pure legal analysis, that I had a basis for why both Palin and Obama had a legal right to use the songs as they wished.

The intent of singers and songwriters is to have their works heard. To support that intent, and preserve their rights a artists, their works are licensed to be heard in a variety of markets. We are all familiar with radio, but venues like concert and sporting arenas may also obtain a license to play a song. That music that you hear in the elevator is licensed. The way that this typically works is that the songwriters and performing artists contract with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) to distribute their music. Any entity that is licensed with ASCAP can play a song distributed by ASCAP without getting the artist’s explicit permission. So neither the Palin folks, nor the Obama camp had to ask the Wilson sisters or Brooks and Dunn for permission to use the music as long as they had secured the appropriate licensing from ASCAP.

However, nothing in the law is ever simple; if it were, lawyers would be out of work! The ASCAP license only allows a song to be performed; if you want to use the song in a political ad or a promotional video, you have to obtain a license from a publisher known as a “synchronization license.” Singer Jackson Browne’s lawsuit against the McCain campaign for using his song Running on Empty in an ad is based on a violation of the sync license law. There is a backdoor to a possible lawsuit even if the user has a license from ASCAP. If for instance, Palin used Heart’s song to the extent that it becomes identified with Palin, then the Wilson sister’s could sue under a claim of a violation of their “right to publicity,” which allows you to protect your identity or image from being used for marketing purposes. However, the “right to publicity” laws vary from state to state and generally apply to commercial uses of an image, not political ads.

So the bottom line of this non-issue is that unless the Obama and Palin camps have totally lost their minds up in here and neglected to secure the appropriate ASCAP licensing, they can play whatever song that they like and the rest of us need to adopt as our theme song, Blowing in the Wind, a song about issues of substance. Written by Bob Dylan and first released in 1963, the song has been recorded by numerous artists, including Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, Sam Cooke, and my personal favorite, a cover by Stevie Wonder in 1966. The video is the Stevie Wonder cover.

Blowin’ In The Wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, n how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before its washed to the sea?
Yes, n how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

(My next nonsense issue to be addressed in an upcoming entry: the woman who called in to the Michael Baisden Radio Show to announce that she couldn’t vote for Barack Obama because he supported killing babies. Please Lord, deliver me from fools.)

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12 responses to “The Answers Are Blowing in the Wind

  1. Why is this important? Maybe it is because I am an old guy whose foundations for life were forged in the fifties and sixties, but I fail to see what music has to do with anything? May I suggest the Heart song has probably had mnore exposure in the last few days than ever before? I don’t know that because I have never heard of these sisters and their band but maybe in the Gen X world that is different.

  2. Thank you for an enlightening and apolitical analysis of copyright law as it relates to politics.

    Perhaps now I can forgo the Rolaids when I hear ‘my’ music appropriated by people I despise.

  3. If you despise certain people you should not get rid of the antacids quite yet. You will just find someone else you disagrre with that will elevate your stomach churning. If you really want to calm the tummy, learn to accept the things you can’t change in other people. You don’t have to like it just learn to not let it control you.

    Signed
    Dr. Fuller 🙂

  4. quite a post. there is so much that seems cuckoo in our world. barricuda palin would be at the very top of my list. for me the pre-meditated killing of an adult elk or moose trumps the hurried abortion decision after an error in judgement any time.
    and just like the “baby-killer” woman, my mind is easily made up.

  5. Rod
    I am not sure if you are serious or just baiting someone here. Are you equating a moose with a human being?

  6. I thought it was interesting that the National Organization for Women endorsed Obama today. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94658965 One would think that the gender card would automatically go to McCain.

    I’m sure Mr. Fuller has some comment to make about this, and I am glad that Sheria gives him space to make his comments (we need to remember that there are folks out there that think like he does), but I must say I am happy that this organization moved beyond gender and endorsed a candidate based on issues. Personally, I don’t have the time or energy to rent him any space in my head. (but it’s not my blog, so I don’t control who commeb=nts.)

  7. I thought it was interesting that the National Organization for Women endorsed Obama today. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94658965 One would think that the gender card would automatically go to McCain.

    I’m sure Mr. Fuller has some comment to make about this, and I am glad that Sheria gives him space to make his comments (we need to remember that there are folks out there that think like he does), but I must say I am happy that this organization moved beyond gender and endorsed a candidate based on issues. Personally, I don’t have the time or energy to rent him any space in my head. (but it’s not my blog, so I don’t control who comments.)

  8. NOW has no choice but to endorse Obama. They are in fact a liberal organizarion. But their claim has been that they represented all women and thereby deserved alarger voice than conservatives were willing to give them. They do not represent all women and never have. In fact Sarah Palin represents what NOW et al have fought against. Ergo, the conservatives and some others have called them on their double standard. They should have just acknowledge that their organization was only for those who believed in abortion and a few other left wing sentiments and not have claimed to be something they were not.

  9. “One would think that the gender card would automatically go to McCain. “ No conservative I read or hear from expected any such thing. In fact NOW and some of their fellow traverlers are far outside the middle of the spectrum where most Americans are. It is that middle which decides who is elected not the extremes. That is why Obama is making a rush there when in fact he is the most liberal member of the senate. If liberalism really represented the majority of America he would not have abandoned it just to get elected. Every one knows he will rocket back to the left if he is elected. That my friend is hipocracy.

  10. Dr. Fuller,

    As a contemporary of yours, I long ago stopped letting the mere opinions of others that I disagree with bother me. No, I save the Rolaids for the times when those opinions cross over and impinge on my beliefs and my quality of life, usually through the actions of politicians and the laws they write.

  11. alisray
    First the “Dr.” is a nom de plume. Second, thank God for little favors – Rolaids being one. I understand how emotions can interfere with judgement. I was once influenced in such a manner. It was back in the 80’s I think. Since then I have become the posterchild for moderation and a peaceful heart – more or less.

  12. And I should add chemically free.

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