Imagine never being able to sing your favorite karaoke song knowing that the artist sent you a cease and desist letter. For Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, this is his harsh reality. On August 12th, Ramaswamy rapped to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at the Iowa state fair. “Lose Yourself” is from the movie based on Eminem’s journey to becoming a 15 Grammy award winning artist and is about seizing an opportunity.
This ‘shady’ situation between the artist and candidate is more common than you would think. Often, the artist does not agree with the candidate’s politics and does not want to be associated with them. And of course, it is bad press for the candidate if an influential celebrity says they don’t agree with your politics so much so that they object to your bad pitch. Music sets the tone for the campaign and the candidate, so it makes sense that many campaign songs have a common theme of patriotism and perseverance. According to NPR, “if you’re a candidate for president, there’s a good chance you’ve been sued—or at least threatened—by a musician.”
In response to the cover of his song, Eminem’s record company sent a cease and desist letter informing Ramaswamy’s campaign that they will “consider any performance of the Eminem works by the Vivek 2024 campaign from this date forward to be a material breach.” Ramaswamy had said that this was his “favorite walk off song”… I wonder how he feels right now.
According to the Independent, even Neil Young had sent President George W. Bush a cease and desist letter for his use of the 1989 hit “Rocking in the Free World.” The song touches on ideas of persistence and freedom. As a clapback to President Bush’s use of his song without his permission, Young “[performed] the song for Bush’s rival Al Gore after [he] conceded the election.”
In January 2021, the Village People had asked former President Donald Trump to cease and desist multiple times after he used their song ‘YMCA’ at many campaign rallies. Even SNL had something to say with a skit of the ‘Village People’ responding to Trump on the weekend update through a catchy song.
The copyright lasts for the “artist’s lifetime” and 70 more years. Though it’s entertaining to see everyone’s favorite celebrities feuding with political candidates, cases like these raise questions of where to draw the line on copyright infringement and public image.
Politicians use campaign music to inspire voters, align themselves with the message of the song, and even the artist themself. In some cases, the politician does not have to ask permission from the artist (this can depend on the license of the venue), and in others, you must have permission. It is safe to say that when an artists’ values do not match those of the politician using the song, they will hear about it.