Among the seemingly infinite list of Things That Have Become A Political Battleground In America, campaign music choices have become an especially hot topic as of late. From Bernie Sanders’ ostensible Coachella in 2020 to Pete Buttigieg’s widely-memed “High Hopes” dance, to Trump’s recent, confounding use of “Do You Hear The People Sing” from Les Misérables to announce his campaign (the movie version, to add insult to injury), it is clear that these choices are something advisors and aids are putting a lot of stock into.
One thing these teams may not be considering, however, is how the original artist feels about their work being used in this way. This is obvious, at least, in the recent case of failed Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who is currently at odds with the Tom Petty estate over her (egregiously on-the-nose) use of the song “I Won’t Back Down” in a now-deleted video contesting the results of her election.
In a cease and desist letter recently obtained by Pitchfork, Petty’s publisher Wixen Music Publishing condemned Lake’s use of the song, stating: “It has come to Wixen’s and the Claimants’ attention that you and Kari Lake for Arizona are currently broadcasting, exhibiting, distributing, and otherwise exploiting the Composition in synchronization with an advertisement video made in connection with your bid to contest the results of the 2022 election for governor of Arizona (‘Unauthorized Video’) without Wixen’s and the Claimants’ approval.”
The letter continues:
Furthermore, the use of the Composition in connection with your candidacy conveys the false implication that the Claimants endorse or are otherwise associated with you and/or your candidacy. This implicit endorsement is revolting to the Claimants and gives rise to claims under the Lanham Act and the common law and statutes of various state jurisdictions which recognize postmortem rights of publicity. The combination of copyright and rights of publicity violations may have damaged both the value of the Composition and the legacy of Tom Petty and his successors’ rights under the Lanham Act and other applicable laws if members of the public mistakenly believe that Tom Petty had any association with you.
To be clear Ms. Lake, Tom Petty was enraged by any sort of injustice. Without question he would have been outraged by your failed campaign for Governor, which was filled with distortions, lies, smears, promoting hate, and attempting to undermine our democracy. Using his music to promote yourself and your despicable cause is revolting and antithetical to everything that Tom and his music stand for and mean to millions of people.
Tom sang “I Won’t Back Down” at America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert for victims of the 9/11 attack. Not backing down to hatred, violence, and an attack on our democracy. The opposite of what you stand for. Using this song to promote your warped values is not only illegal as outlined above but an insult to Tom’s memory, his lyrics and music, and the tens of millions of fans who cherish his legacy.
The letter also adds that Wixen is liable to charge $150,000 per additional use of the song. This may seem like a lot of legalese, but the message is loud and clear: “Hey MAGA lady? Back the fuck down.”