During this year’s Conservative Party conference, and in the days immediately after, artists, songwriters and even a music publisher took to Twitter to voice their disapproval with the event’s use of their music.
Calvin Harris, Florence Welch and John Truelove all criticised the party for using their music without prior consent, with Welch calling on the government to stop.
But this issue isn’t limited to UK politics: songwriters and artists across the US have objected to their music being used in political events over there too, with Donald Trump’s appropriation of REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It back in 2015 attracting particular ire.
Here, Truelove, an international DJ, producer, founder of Truelove Music Publishing and PRS board member, calls on the songwriting community to stand tall…
COMMENT: Enough is enough! Political parties have been using our music without permission for too long. I’m calling on writers and publishers to take action.
Another year, another round of party conferences, another shameless appropriation of intellectual property. The 2017 Conservative Party conference may well go down in history as the final nail in the coffin for Theresa May’s tenure as prime minister, but it’s also high time we as an industry make sure it’s the end of political parties using our music without prior approval.
This year’s musical pilfering included Florence & the Machine’s recording of my song You’ve Got The Love and Calvin Harris’ 2016 collaboration with Rihanna This Is What You Came For. Both artists were quick to call out the Tories on Twitter, where they received massive sympathy and support. But of course the damage was already done. Clear legislation needs to be put in place now to protect writers and artists from such unauthorised use of their work under cover of blanket licences.
This is the second unauthorised usage of my music by a political party – Ed Miliband closed out his leader’s speech in 2011 with the same song… I wonder if the Tories checked first – and the practice is by no means limited to this side of the pond with Adele, Bruce Springsteen, REM and Aerosmith among the artists who complained after Trump used their music to garnish his political campaign events. It would seem the utter disregard for the wishes of artists, songwriters and rightsholders is that rare policy on which all parties can agree! I fear the day my music is appropriated by UKIP, the EDL or any number of extreme populist parties currently flourishing across Europe and indeed the world, but as things stand, we are helpless to intervene.
Under current UK law, political parties are allowed to use music without approval due to conference venues being spaces already enjoying a PRS for Music public performance licence. Yet the implications of a political party associating itself with our music can have repercussions that massively outweigh any potential royalty earnings.
In the days before YouTube and Facebook it was much less of an issue (and there was probably far less thought given by the organisers to the sound and feel of the party conference), but now these events are so tightly choreographed in order to not only look good but sound right for the social media generation.
The distinction between some incidental music playing behind a news piece (say, Gabby Logan reporting from the Emirates while this year’s bastardisation of Guantanamera is chanted by the crowd in the background) is a world away from a series of songs designed to appeal to particular demographics through global media at specific well-planned points in or around a political speech or event. As many people have commented on Twitter and elsewhere, it is essentially a sync, except that sadly, under current law, it isn’t, with all the loss of control that entails.
The hilarious and blatant plagiarism of the West Wing in Theresa May’s conference speech may have caused Tory embarrassment but it’s a clear indicator of the contempt with which political parties now view intellectual property. Licensing practice, or if necessary the law, needs to change so that we as writers and artists are protected, so that no controlled music may be used by any political party without our prior and express consent.
PS. I did get a deep apology from the chairman of the Labour Party back in 2011 – I wonder if the Tories will follow suit?
PRS for Music is aware of this issue and is currently considering, in partnership with PPL, how best to remind political parties of their obligations in clearing rights in musical works.