Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Let us Now Praise Gretchen Peters

There has been a great deal of press lately concerning artists and songwriters attempting to stop political parties from using their songs without permission, thereby implying an endorsement. There are probably earlier examples but everyone recalls Ronald Reagan’s attempt to use Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for his 1984 re-election campaign. He obviously didn’t listen to the lyrics. In the current campaign, Jackson Browne has sued the Republican National Committee for the unauthorized use of his song “Running on Empty”. The legal issues can be a bit murky because of the fact that a public performance license usually covers the right to perform the song (this of course would not apply to the use of the song in a television commercial).

Nashville songwriter Gretchen Peters wrote “Independence Day,” a huge hit for Martina McBride. The song is about a woman fleeing an abusive relationship. Oddly enough, the song often gets played on the fourth of July along with the aforementioned Springsteen song. I am convinced no one ever actually listens to a song’s lyrics anymore. Recently, Peters learned that her song had been used to introduce Sarah Palin to the crowds attending the Republican National Convention. Rather than attempting to sue or even complain, Peters took the outrageously brilliant step of donating her royalties from the song for the duration of the election to Planned Parenthood, in Sarah Palin’s name. Here’s what she said on the issue, “The fact that the McCain/Palin campaign is using a song about an abused woman as a rallying cry for their vice presidential candidate, a woman who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is beyond irony,” she says. “They are co-opting the song, completely overlooking the context and message and using it to promote a candidate who would set women’s rights back decades. I’ve decided to donate the royalties from ‘Independence Day’ during this election cycle to Planned Parenthood, in Sarah Palin’s name. I hope with the additional income provided by the McCain/Palin campaign, Planned Parenthood will be able to help many more women in need.”

No matter what your politics are, I think this is a novel way for a songwriter to protect their work and get their point across.

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