Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I recently received an e-mail that pertains to a complaint from songwriter John Hall regarding the George Bush campaign's use of Hall's 1970s hit, “Still the One.”

Apparently, at least one pro-Bush rally played “Still the One” as a theme of sorts, to open and close the event. Hall reportedly didn't learn of this usage of his song until he saw coverage of the rally on TV, and has expressed his unhappiness with the Bush camp for not seeking permission or a license in advance.

Further complicating the issue is that Hall, a longtime Democrat, supported the Kerry-Edwards ticket and did not want his work used to further the Bush cause.

Though I am a former member of ASCAP, whose music was recorded by Mel Tillis in the '70s, I am not quite clear on this music rights issue.

Wouldn't a political organization have a right to use someone's song, just as major advertisers do all the time on radio and TV, as long as they pay for it.

I understand why John Hall, belonging to a rival political party, might disagree with the Republican candidates. But does Mr. Hall have the authority, after publicly releasing his music, to dictate how it may be used as long as he received the proper compensation?
—Daryl A. May, Clearwater, Fla.

DEAR DARYL: For the record, though John Hall is the individual mentioned in all of this, it is his mid-'70s group, Orleans, credited on “Still the One,” a Top 10 hit in the summer of '76.

It appears in this case that John Hall has a pretty good argument, as a copyright holder should always be able to decide whether or not they want their work to be used in conjunction with a product or cause.

Without this type of licensing control, one can only imagine the bizarre gadgets and schemes an unwary writer or musician could end up appearing to be endorsing.

When it comes to recording or using copyrighted music, there are several types of licenses, along with dozens of sub-categories, through which to sift.

The John Hall situation is different than the recording of someone else's works, as these two involve completely different licenses: mechanical rights and performance rights. In that you had an ASCAP affilation, let's use the description they provide for each of these licenses:

“Mechanical rights allow for recording and distribution (without visual images) of music on a phonograph record, compact disc, or tape. Mechanical rights or a mechanical license must be obtained in order to lawfully make and distribute records, CDs and tapes.”

This means that without asking first, one can choose to record their own rendition of previously published and copyrighted works, as long as licensing is eventually arranged. This easy-to-get license provides for compensation to the copyright holder.

“Performance rights, also known as public performance rights, provide for a performance in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered.

“A public performance also occurs when the performance is transmitted to the public by means of any device or process, such as via broadcast, telephone wire, or other means.”

In order to perform a copyrighted work publicly, the user must obtain performance rights from the copyright owner or their representative.

I did call ASCAP's licensing and legal affairs department, and spoke to attorney Richard Reimer. He confirmed this to be the type of license required for the playing of someone's recording at a public event, such as a political rally.

IZ ZAT SO? Another very common music license, and an important one to mention today, covers synchronization rights.

A synchronization right involves the use of a recording of musical work in both the audio and visual form.

This includes music used during all or part of a motion picture, television program, commercial announcement, music video, or other audio-video media.

Often, the music is synchronized or recorded in timed relation with the visual images. Synch rights are usually licensed directly by the music publisher to the producer of the movie, program, or project.

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