21 Politicians Who Got Called Out For Using Campaign Songs Without Permission
Just last month, three presidential hopefuls were called out by musicians for using their songs without permission during their respective campaigns. GOP candidate Mike Huckabee was scolded for playing Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" at a rally in support of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, who was released from jail on Tuesday. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were chastised by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe after using the band's song "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" during a joint campaign stop.
It's certainly not the first time a political figure has gotten in hot water for adopting campaign anthems without approval from the person who wrote or performed them. We've rounded up 21 times that someone running for office took a famous song and ran with it during their campaigns, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Keep reading to see them all now.
Back in 1984 when former President Ronald Reagan was running for his second term, he played Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" during his campaign — without permission. The rocker was famously upset about his song being used, not only because he's always been an outspoken liberal, but because the song isn't really a pro-America anthem — like, at all. That same year, Reagan was also discouraged from using the song "Pink Houses" by John Mellencamp; the singer has since said that he's "as left-wing as you can get."
When Donald Trump announced his presidential run in June, Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" was blaring on repeat in the background. The rocker's manager released a statement shortly after, saying that he was "not authorized" to use the song, adding that "Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President."
During a joint campaign stop with Donald Trump in Washington DC in September, Ted Cruz played R.E.M.'s hit "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." Lead singer Michael Stipe wasn't having it; while tweeting from bassist Mike Mills' saccount, he told them, "Go f*ck yourselves, the lot of you — you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men," adding, "Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign."
John McCain had quite a few scrapes with famous musicians during his presidential run in 2008. First, he was sued by rocker Jackson Browne for using his 1977 song "Running on Empty" without permission. The politician apologized to Browne and settled the case for an undisclosed amount. When McCain started playing the Foo Fighters' "My Hero," at rallies, the band's frontman, Dave Grohl, spoke out against it. He issued a statement, saying, "It's frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property," adding, "The saddest thing about this is that 'My Hero' was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential."
McCain also angered the members of Van Halen after using their song "Right Now" at a rally without permission, and was chastised by John Mellencamp for playing his song "Pink Houses" on the campaign trail. He was banned from using Orleans's hit "Still the One," and the Swedish pop group Abba did not appreciate the presidential hopeful using "Take a Chance on Me" at his events, either; they sent his campaign a cease-and-desist letter.
Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider was not going to take Paul Ryan playing the band's 1984 hit "We're Not Gonna Take It" during his campaign rallies in 2012. In a statement, Snider said, "I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan's use of my band's song in any capacity," adding, "There is almost nothing he stands for that I agree with except the use of the P90X."
When running for chancellor of Germany in 2005, Angela Merkel was used the track "Angie" by The Rolling Stones. A rep for the legendary British band spoke out, saying that Merkel was not authorized to play the tune, adding, "We are surprised that permission was not requested. If it had been, we would have said no."
In 2011, Michele Bachmann was called out by both Tom Petty and Katrina & the Waves' frontwoman Katrina Leskanich for using their songs "American Girl" and "Walking on Sunshine," respectively. After the presidential hopeful played both tunes at campaign rallies, Petty sent her camp a cease-and-desist letter and Katrina and the Waves put out a statement on their website, saying, "Katrina & the Waves would like it to be known that they do not endorse the use of 'Walking On Sunshine' by Michele Bachmann and have instructed their lawyers accordingly."
While running for president in 2012, Mitt Romney used the alt-rock tune "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups. The irony of the song's lyrics — "When you see yourself in a crowded room / Do your fingers itch? Are you pistol whipped?" — being used for a political campaign wasn't lost on the band, who said at the time, "We were very close to just letting this go because the irony was too good," adding, "While he is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign, we doubt that 'Panic Switch' really sends the message he intends."
That wasn't the end of Romney's musical controversy. After his camp released an attack ad that featured Barack Obama singing "Let's Stay Together," he was admonished by the hit's original singer, Al Green. He was also threatened with legal action by Somali-Canadian rapper K'naan after using his anthem "Wavin' Flag" during a victory rally in Florida. The musician explained his reasons for not wanting to be associated with the Romney campaign, saying, "I'm for immigrants. I'm for poor people, and they don't seem to be what he's endorsing."
In 2008, Heart's "Barracuda" was played at the Republican National Convention while introducing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (her high school nickname was "Sarah Barracuda"). Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson emailed a statement to the McCain/Palin campaign asking them to stop using the song, but it was played again later that evening.
Feeling disrespected, the band issued another, much firmer message to the media, saying, "Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song 'Barracuda' no longer be used to promote her image. The song was written in the late '70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there."
Newt Gingrich was sent a cease-and-desist letter in 2011 after blasting Journey's hit "Don't Stop Believin'" at a campaign event. The following year, he was sued by Survivor's Frankie Sullivan for playing the Rocky III theme song "Eye of the Tiger" during his public appearances and prohibited from using the 2009 hit "How You Like Me Now?" by British rock band The Heavy.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was threatened with a lawsuit by the indie band MGMT after using their song "Kids" in two online videos for his Union for Popular Movement party. The UMP said that they used the song "by mistake" and offered the band one euro as compensation — wait, what?! MGMT's lawyer called the offer "insulting," and was able to squeeze approximately $39,000 from the UMP. The band donated the money to an artists' rights organization.
George W. Bush
In 2000, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers issued a cease-and-desist letter to George W. Bush for using their song "I Won't Back Down" during his campaign rallies. He was then disallowed from using John Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." and was also asked to stop playing Sting's hit "Brand New Day" — though Al Gore was given permission use it for his events the same year.
Four years later when running for re-election, Bush was scolded for using the Orleans's "Still the One."
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker walked out to the Dropkick Murphys song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" in January 2015 while announcing his presidential run. The punk band responded to their tune being used without permission via Twitter, writing, "@ScottWalker @GovWalker please stop using our music in any way. . .we literally hate you!!! Love, Dropkick Murphys."
While running for president in 2008, Barack Obama was asked to stop playing the song "Hold On, I'm Comin'" by its singer, Sam Moore (one half of the R&B duo Sam and Dave). Though he found it "thrilling" to see a man of color running for office, he added in a statement, "I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land. My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box." All was forgiven the following year when Moore performed alongside Sting and Elvis Costello at Obama's inaugural ball. He also played at the White House in 2013.
George H.W. Bush
George Bush used the Bobby McFerrin hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy" as his presidential campaign theme in 1988 without permission and was asked to stop by the singer (who was a supporter of democrat candidate Michael Dukakis). McFerrin publicly protested the use of his song, even going so far as to stop performing it during his concerts that year. The Bush campaign eventually dropped the tune.
When Don Henley sued Republican senatorial candidate Chuck DeVore in 2010, it marked the first time that a politician had been taken to court over a parody song. DeVore turned Henley's hit "The Boys of Summer" into a Barack Obama diss called "The Hope of November," and the rocker — a staunch Obama supporter — asked YouTube to take down the videos. DeVore not only asked that they be put back up, but he also made another video using Henley's "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" into "All She Wants to Do Is Tax." He defended his use of the songs by insisting that they were parodies, and therefore legal to use.
They ended up going to court, and a judge ruled that DeVore's versions of the songs did not mock the original songs or the songwriter, which did not make them parodies. DeVore settled the case and issued an apology to Henley.
During the Republican primaries in 2008, Mike Huckabee ended his campaign events by playing Boston's "More Than a Feeling" on the bass with his band, Capitol Offense. Tom Scholz, who wrote the song, wasn't having it; he penned an open letter to Huckabee, saying, "Although I'm impressed you learned my bass guitar part on 'More Than a Feeling', I am an Obama supporter."
When Kentucky clerk Kim Davis was released from jail in September 2015, Huckabee threw a rally for her supporters, at which Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" was played. The band's frontman, Frankie Sullivan, condemned the presidential hopeful, saying, "What upset me most was that, once again, my song was being used to further a political agenda — and no one even bothered to ask for permission." Sullivan had previously sued Newt Gingrich for playing the song at his campaign events back in 2012.
Bob Dole is another presidential candidate who was publicly criticized by Bruce Springsteen for using "Born in the USA" without permission. Along with being rebuffed by The Boss, Dole also got in trouble with singer Isaac Hayes for using an unauthorized, newly recorded version of his hit "Soul Man."
During his Senate run in 2010, Florida governor Charlie Crist was sued for $1 million by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne after using the group's song "Road to Nowhere" in an attack ad against his opponent Marco Rubio. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum, and Crist apologized to the singer for abusing his artistic rights.
Rand Paul is a noted fan of the Canadian band Rush; he's quoted their lyrics in speeches and played their songs during his rallies and campaign videos over the years. But in 2010, after using the songs "Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit of Radio," the band issued Paul a cease-and-desist letter due to copyright issues. Even though the Kentucky senator is now running for president, it's likely that he won't be using any Rush hits. This year, the band's drummer and lyricist told Rolling Stone that he'd never vote for Rand Paul, as it's "very obvious [that he] hates women and brown people."
In 2014, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key used Eminem's "Lose Yourself" in a re-election campaign ad without the rapper's permission. Eminem and his publishing company sued the National Party for copyright infringement, and a court date is still pending.