Getting Sued by Musicians: A McCain-Palin Tradition


Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party have apologized to (and presumably paid) Jackson Browne for their use of his 1977 song "Running on Empty" during the 2008 presidential campaign without obtaining the singer's permission. According to the Guardian:

The apology and pledge [to obtain usage rights to music in the future] were released today along with an announcement of a settlement with Browne over a federal copyright infringement lawsuit filed last year in Los Angeles. Browne sued McCain and the national and Ohio Republican parties for using part of his song Running on Empty to mock Democrat Barack Obama's proposed energy policies in an internet advert….

The musician's suit stated that Browne was concerned that use of his music would cause people to conclude he was endorsing McCain, even though the 60-year-old singer is a self-described liberal.

Chuck BerryThe Foo Fighters, and Van Halen have all been down that brambly path already. If this keeps up, soon the background music at all Republican campaign events will just be a loop of "McCain-Palin Tradition" and "Raisin' McCain." Strongest case for loose IP laws ever.

In the August-September print edition of Reason, Damon Root noted (briefly) Hank Williams, Jr.'s long tradition of political remixes.


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  1. The fact that McCain and Palin thought “Running on Empty” described their campaign in some way seems like it’s own revenge. Suing them on top of it is just adding insult to injury.

  2. Permission from the artist to cover or publicly perform a song is not required. It is not a violation of intellectual property rights so long as the pertinent royalties are paid.

  3. You don’t need permission, and you might not have to pay royalties depending on the venue. Plus, Jackson Browne’s argument sounds like a trademark argument. Sorry pal, you don’t get to micromanage who does what with your song, or who thinks something about it.

  4. Also Heart was pissed off about the use of “Barracuda,” IIRC.

    Abdul – sifting through the hideous mental wreckage of last year, I think “Running on Empty” was supposed to describe Obama/Democrats’ opposition to offshore drilling. Tire pressure gauges and the like.

  5. I’d say not much of a case, but damn, you’d think those campaign people would be smart enough not to open these doors. It just adds negative publicity when you invite a celebrity (albeit minor) who’s rooting for the other side to comment on where they stand.

    Republicans need to stick to country and Ted Nugent.

  6. I am sure Brown was pissed off by it, but too bad it is a free country. That said, they have to pay the guy if they are going to use one of his songs. Why am I not surprised politicians seem to have issues with paying their bills?

  7. Maybe the Rs can propose a Fairness Doctrine that would limit radio air play for bands that won’t let them use music. Then the radio stations would half to play rock-blocks of the Nuge every hour.

  8. What Abdul said. “Running on Empty” writes so many jokes by itself (especially for the eviros) that I’m amazed they would think about using it.

    Considering what all the conservatives thought of Palin, they should have used this instead. (Rickroll free link).

  9. Oh, yeah, Nugent. Same idea as my last post, but this might have been too much for most Republicans. (Also rick roll free, but potentially NSFW).

  10. “‘So long as the pertinent royalties are paid’ should have been italicized.”

    I don’t know the specifics, but many venues pay ASCAP and BMI royalties for using songs at their venue. Its based on the number of seats or some other metric, not the number of times a song is played. Not sure what venue McCain used, or if this even applies.

  11. Browne hasn’t charted a song in over 25 years. Guess his self-righteous little tantrum could put a little somethin’ in the “tank” that’s been empty for so long.

  12. none of the people who have disparaged jackson browne on this thread will ever be as prominent an artist as he is.

  13. I actually like some of Browne’s music. He was kind of like The Eagles only if the Eagles had any talent. Of all the country LA rock 70s types, his music was consistently the best. But, he hasn’t done an interesting record in over a decade and is just a nasty old leftist.

  14. John, “if the Eagles had any talent”? I’m not exactly their greatest fan, but WTF? They might not have deserved to sell 50 million (or whatever) albums, but at rock bottom, they were (often) a decent rock band.

  15. Okay John, I’ll play along. Who, in your opinion, were the 5 most talented groups of the 70s?

  16. “none of the people who have disparaged Jackson Browne on this thread will ever be as prominent an artist as he is.”


  17. Lamar, why just say it, when you can link to it, and (partly) answer the question you asked John?

  18. Oops. “Partially answer the question brotherben asked John.”

  19. “The musician’s suit stated that Browne was concerned that use of his music would cause people to conclude he was endorsing McCain, even though the 60-year-old singer is a self-described liberal”

    A young Republican has no heart, an old…

  20. The Eagles did have talent. They could sing. I just think their music is boring and soulless.

    As far as top five most talented bands of the 70s? That is a tough question because how do you define talent?

    From a purely technical perspective, the prog rock bands like Genesis, and ELP would dominate the list. From a song writing perspective CSNY would be at or near the top of any list. I don’t see how Queen could not be on the list. From an influencing later bands, Led Zepplin would have to be on any list. So how about those five

    Led Zeppelin

    I am limited the list to Rock bands. If you include soul and disco, the list gets much harder to narrow to five.

  21. The most talented band of the ’70s? Steely Dan.

    Now put that in yer pipe and smoke it.

  22. It’s not Democrats don’t do the same thing, musicians are just more likely to be Dems and litigious.

  23. John, thanks. I would have to toss ELP and replace them with Yes. I’m unfamiliar with Genesis’ early stuff so no comment on them. I would suggest that the Eagles were as good as CSNY. I still believe that Page and Bonham were absolute monsters together and that Freddie Mercury was maybe the greatest front man in rock history.

    I’m sure there are several more to be added to this subjective list.

  24. Clearly, the best musical act to come out of the 70s was the Weather Report.

  25. I could see putting YES in ahead of ELP. I am not enough of a prog rock person to really argue the point.

    Beyond that, how is it that Hit and Run have missed the two huge stories of the week; the death of Leszek Kolakowski and the Erin Andrews nude video leak.

  26. “But the McCain camp is having trouble settling on a suitable campaign anthem. After searching for months, it finally picked “Johnny B Goode” – Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll classic from 1958.”

    A better Chuck Berry song for McCain would have been “Caught Me Playing With My Dingaling-ling”

  27. “It’s not Democrats don’t do the same thing, musicians are just more likely to be Dems and litigious.”

    Except for Ted Nugent and Mike Love, although Mike Love is pretty litigious.

  28. Bookworm,

    Mike just wanted the song writing credits he deservd. I am sure Ted would gladly sue a Dem, but I honestly can’t think of a song he did that would be usable.

  29. black fucking sabbath.

  30. I’d trade all the prog rock albums ever recorded for a single copy of London Calling by The Clash.

  31. As much as I feel for an artist who hates a politician, only to have that politician use his/her song for political gain, I also hate copyright and don’t believe anyone should be able to prevent me, or anyone else, from playing a song in front of people. I don’t even think there should be licensing fees. But assuming there are such fees and they are paid, there is no way the artist should be able to deny permission for someone to play their song. That goes far beyond the constitutional authority granted to Congress to grant copyrights.

  32. Do we get to drink when someone here mentions Steely Dan? I forget.

    Mike in PA got it right early on — legal or not doesn’t matter. Bottom line = terrible political strategy to use the song of someone who opposes you. What a bunch of idiots. Hate Obama policies, but god oh god did repubs deserve to be taken to the cleaners.

    I don’t really understand this “talent” question with regard to the 70s. I get the idea of “best” (The Clash; Rolling Stones [with Mick Taylor, circa Exile]; Al Green, circa Call Me; Parliament/Funkadelic; Stooges, circa Raw Power). Talent is for jazzbos.

  33. Screw Jackson Brown, I’m so sick of that goddamn “won’t you stay” I almost hate him as much as I do Billy Joel.

    Maybe the Repubs should just do like Reagan and use “Happy Days are Here Again,” maybe helmet hair will come back in fashion too.

  34. “I’d trade all the prog rock albums ever recorded for a single copy of London Calling by The Clash.”

    Wow, a deep thinker.

    It’s just generational taste, you idgit. I’d trade all the Clash albums for a scratchy single of “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies.

  35. Douglas Fletcher,

    Yes, I’m not much of deep thinker. Because only a deep thinker like you could miss the crucial difference between “I’d trade” and “Everyone should trade.” All I was expressing was my generational taste. Which is odd considering I’m older than John or brotherben, the two proponents of prog rock from earlier in the thread.

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