Insights Music in political campaigns: PPL issues guidance


When in 2017 Theresa May emerged onto the stage of the Conservative Party conference to the music of Calvin Harris, the DJ tweeted “I do not support nor condone happy songs being played at such a sad event”.

It was not the first time that an artist has taken issue with their music being used by politicians: Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones objected to Donald Trump using their songs on the campaign trail; Fatboy Slim described the use of his music by politicians as “a bit like watching your girlfriend kiss somebody else”; and even D:Ream – whose song ‘Things Can only Get Better’ has become the quintessential political anthem – have said that the Labour Party should not use it any longer and indeed their founding member, Alan Mackenzie, said that “I don’t think politics and music should be linked”.

Yet linked they are. Music has long been used to rally supporters and galvanise support. However, often artists have felt powerless to stop their music being associated with a particular politician or the views they espouse. Indeed, it appears to happen at every election cycle, and each time media reports invariably suggest that musicians’ hands are tied as a result of the licensing arrangements over which they have no control.

However, PPL has issued helpful guidance on the use of music by political campaigns, clarifying that this is not so. As it explains, the terms and conditions of ‘TheMusicLicence’, administered by PPL PRS Ltd, explicitly exclude the political use of music without the permission of the relevant rights holders, citing the following:

“…any Playing or Performance of Music as an introduction to, during or otherwise closely connected with the presentation of any political announcement, including keynote speeches during political party conferences and campaigns (unless You have obtained in advance the written permission of all relevant rights holders).”

Therefore, PPL explains, politicians or campaign organisers must obtain the written permission of the relevant rights holders, including the record company or recording rightsholder and the music publisher(s), in advance. Only once all such permissions are secured can the song in question become part of a political campaign’s soundtrack.

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