Mitt Romney's 'Eye of the Tiger' Fail: GOP Candidates Struggle to Get Artists' Permission to Use Their Music


Amidst the Gingrich campaign’s posturing — including the erstwhile candidate’s bold declaration that it is the “greatest fantasy” on the Romney campaign’s part to hope that he would exit the race — one thing that observers may have missed — unless they attended campaign rallies in Nevada — was the discontinued use of certain songs. Survivor and K’naan — artists whose respective songs Eye of the Tiger and Wavin’ Flag were used by the Romney and Gingrich campaigns — complained that these campaigns had played their music without permission.

K'nann's Wavin’ Flag was also the 2010 World Cup theme

Copyright issues aside, the issue of artists granting political campaigns permission to use their songs is a perennial campaign issue, with the Republican Party suffering more often than not. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the Ohio Republican Party were sued by Jackson Browne for using Running on Empty as the music for an attack ad against then-Senator Obama’s energy policies; in the same year, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson complained about Sarah Palin’s use of Barracuda as a theme song; also in the same year, Tom Petty forced Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to stop using American Girl at her events by sending her a letter. In 2010, longtime Democratic supporter Don Henley won a copyright lawsuit against California Republican Senate candidate Chuck DeVore over his use of satirical lyrics set to Henley’s Boys of Summer and All She Wants to Do Is Dance to attack his opponent, Senator Barbara Boxer.

In the last month, Gingrich has been accused of violating copyright laws twice: first for playing How Do You Like Me Now? by The Heavy at a rally in Tampa, Florida, and then for using Eye of the Tiger by Survivor at political events going back to 2009.

The Heavy, How Do You Like Me Now?

To many artists, the idea of having their music be associated with a particular politician is troublesome, particularly in the current era of partisan politics. Frankie Sullivan, a former Survivor member who helped pen Eye of the Tiger, noted “A song could lose value if it became entwined in the public mind with the politician.”

Pop artist Kelly Clarkson, who tweeted, “I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last Republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wings the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.” could testify to the potential fallout from even appearing to take a certain political stance. Within hours of her tweet, Clarkson found herself under fire from angry followers citing Paul’s racist and homophobic newsletters from the eighties. 

K’naan, the artist behind the 2009 international hit Wavin’ Flag,  which the Romney campaign had been using, acknowledges that his reasoning behind asking the campaign to stop using his song was purely political. He noted, “I’m for immigrants. I’m for poor people, and they don’t seem to be what he’s endorsing. My song being his victory song didn’t seem quite right.” However, he noted that “I would happily grant the Obama campaign use of my song without prejudice,” clearly indicating that it was the Romney campaign’s politics, rather than his song’s use in a political context, that upset him.

In the future, it appears that Republican candidates can only look forward to an ever-shrinking playlist as Hollywood and the music industry — which are both traditionally liberal — increasingly exercise their right to object to the use of their work in a political context. Country music — whose artists are historically more centrist or conservative — is a bastion of Republican campaigns, with Lee Greenwood’s Proud to Be an American being used in both Reagan’s and Palin’s campaigns and Texas Gov. Rick Perry using Toby Keith’s American Ride during his abortive 2012 campaign. 

Photo Credit: tom cochran