Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Can I use a song for my political fundraiser?

Dear Rich: I have a question. I will be having a political fundraiser for a candidate and I want to play "Blame it On Cain" by Elvis Costello before I introduce the main speaker. About 500 to 1000 people will attend. We're not making any money on the event, just taking donations. Do I need to get permission from anyone?
 I'm so glad you asked. If the venue at which you are holding your fundraiser has an ASCAP license, then no, you probably don't need to get permission. (An ASCAP license covers public performances of songs by ASCAP-songwriters like Declan Patrick MacManus.) If the venue doesn't have a license, or their license doesn't include your type of event, you'll need to obtain an ASCAP license. (Songwriters who are not affiliated with ASCAP are usually affiliated with BMI.) Of course, if you're hosting a national event, you may want to get the okay from the songwriter to avoid any negative post-fundraiser blowback.
If you do anything other than play the song, you'll need more. For example, if you create a political video using the song, you'll need a sync license. If you use the recorded song as part of an ad campaign, you'll need other permissions, including one from the performers (under a principle known as right of publicity.)  By the way, the fact that your fundraiser is nonprofit or for-profit won't make much difference in terms of your permissions. The Dear Rich staff could go on and on about these rules (we did write the book) but this Slate article says it more succinctly.