“We’re not gonna take it,” goes the 1984 hit single by the heavy metal band Twisted Sister. “No, we ain’t gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it anymore.” The music video shows an overbearing father berating his rock-and-roll obsessed teenage son.
On Tuesday, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stepped on to the stage at a Pennsylvania rally to those lyrics – triggering a “we’re not gonna take it” from the band’s frontman.
“I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan’s use of my band Twisted Sister’s song, We’re Not Gonna Take It, in any capacity,” Dee Snider said in a statement to the website Talking Points Memo. “There is almost nothing he stands for that I agree with except the use of the P90X.”
It is unclear whether the Romney-Ryan camp had permission to use the Twisted Sister song as part of the public license for campaign events. A spokesman for Mr. Ryan emailed a response saying: "We're Not Gonna Play It anymore."
The power of the campaign rally song to become intertwined with a presidential candidate was apparent in the 1990s when the Bill Clinton campaign made Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) by Fleetwood Mac a staple of campaign events.
But presidential campaigns have regularly upset musicians with their choice of song to introduce the candidate – often because musicians fear the use of their music will be seen an endorsement of a political message or campaign. In 2000, it was George W. Bush who had to back down from using a song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The song: I Won’t Back Down.
In 2008, John McCain’s presidential campaign took it one step beyond a campaign rally when it used the Jackson Browne song Running on Empty in a TV attack ad against Barack Obama, resulting in a lawsuit by the musician known for supporting liberal causes.
“It’s shocking that they don’t even attempt to get permission. There’s no copyright difference between using a song to sell cars or by people running for president. The music industry continues to suffer due to lack of respect for intellectual property rights, and a candidate for president has a duty to lead by example and ensuring their campaign does as well,” Mr. Browne’s lawyer said at the time.
In January, Mr. Romney celebrated his Florida primary win with Wavin’ Flag by Somali-Canadian musician K’naan – again, without seeking the musician’s permission.
“If I had been asked, I would certainly not have granted it. I would happily grant the Obama campaign use of my song without prejudice,” said K’naan in a statement at the time.
Others have sought to distance their music from political campaigns. When Mr. Ryan described himself as a fan of Rage Against the Machine, the band’s guitarist wrote in Rolling Stone magazine: “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.”
But do political campaigns always need to secure permission before using a band’s music?
The band Silversun Pickups asked the Romney campaign this month to stop playing Panic Switch at campaign rallies, citing copyright law. It was an unusual choice of song for the Romney camp given the anxiety-laced lyrics.
Lawyers for the band stated in a letter sent to the Romney campaign on August 15th that permission from the owners of the copyright of the song must be secured before it can be used in any campaign promotions.
More to the point, the letter states, any association of the band and its music with the Romney campaign would be “harmful” under trademark laws because it could be seen as endorsement.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the Romney campaign – like any political campaign – has a license that permits it to use certain songs at public events from a copyright perspective – including songs by Silversun Pickups.
While repeated use of a song could imply a band endorsing a political campaign, the single use of a song is arguable, writes Businessweek’s Robert Levine – and most political campaigns honour a band’s request to stop playing its music, even if the campaign is technically covered by copyright law.
“As anyone who attends Gov. Romney’s events knows, [Panic Switch] is not a song we would have played intentionally. That said, it was covered under the campaign’s regular blanket license, but we will not play it again,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.