Political Parties’ Guide to Music Licensing

While there’s little doubt that music can empower political messages and galvanise supporters, political parties should be aware of the complexity and risks involved when using music for political purposes at events and in videos, whether on social media or in advertising.

This guide sets out risk management factors that political parties and political organisations should consider in advance of using music for political purposes.

The information in this guide is not intended for Commonwealth or State governments using music for the services of the Commonwealth or a State as special copyright rules apply in those circumstances.

What are the risks of playing music at a political event?

1.      Copyright Risk

Problem: Standard public performance music licences issued by OneMusic Australia (for example, those typically held by venues) will not cover the use of OneMusic Australia’s music at an event that has been created for the primary purpose of supporting a political party or political movement (Political Event), without the prior consent of the copyright owners of that music.

Risk: To use music that is protected by the Copyright Act 1968 without permission risks infringing the music owners’ copyright.

Solution: Get separate written approval from both songwriters and recording artists before featuring their music at your Political Event. For most commercially released music, approach the relevant publishers and record labels to discuss the necessary approvals. OneMusic Australia can then assist with licensing the venue or event where necessary.

More information:

In Australia, the rights to perform in public the vast majority of commercially released music worldwide are represented by two bodies: the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA). Both organisations grant permission to publicly perform their music to users such as venue operators and event organisers.

OneMusic Australia is a joint initiative of APRA, AMCOS and PPCA, and issues music licences to both venues and events for and on behalf of both organisations.

There are typically two ways that a venue or event can be licensed by OneMusic Australia:

  1. A OneMusic Australia venue or promoter licence, where the event is covered under an annual licence taken out by either the venue operator or event promoter (usually a national music promoter); or
  2. A OneMusic Australia casual event licence, where the event is covered by a one-off OneMusic Australia licence specifically taken out for that event.

Importantly, OneMusic Australia licences would not fully cover the use of music if it was used at a Political Event (as defined above). OneMusic Australia’s casual event public performance licences specifically exclude the use of its music at and for those events, unless prior written consent is received from the copyright owners.

Allowing musical works (the written song) or musical sound recordings (the recording of those songs) that are protected by copyright to be publicly performed without obtaining permission from the copyright owners risks infringing that owner’s copyright. Organisations found to have infringed copyright risk being liable to pay damages to the rightsholders or being issued injunctions to cease further use of the infringing material.

To ensure you are fully protected from a breach of copyright, you will need to get approval for the use of music at your Political Event from both the songwriter or publisher for the use of the written song, and the artist or record company for the use of a particular recording of that song.

If you want more information about using music at your Political Event you can contact OneMusic Australia on hello@onemusic.com.au.

Did you know? In 2015, representatives of a prominent Australian musician successfully took down a video posted online by a political organisation that incorporated the musician’s song into a video promoting its cause.

2.         Moral Rights Risk

Problem: Standard public performance music licences issued by OneMusic Australia and typically held by venues will not cover the use of music in any way that impeaches upon the “moral rights” of a songwriter or artist.

Risk: To use music written or performed by an artist in a way that the artist considers is “detrimental to their honour or reputation” may breach the “moral rights” of that musician as protected under the Copyright Act 1968.

Solution: Get separate written approval from both songwriters and recording artists before featuring their music at your Political Event.

More information:

Creators of musical works have “moral rights” in their works that are separate from copyright protection. Moral rights include the creator’s right of integrity of authorship, which is a creator’s right not to have their work subjected to derogatory treatment.

Derogatory treatment of musical works includes doing anything in relation to music or lyrics that is prejudicial to the author’s honour or reputation. For example, a songwriter that is unaligned with or actively objects to a political cause may raise a moral rights issue if, for instance, a political party that supports that cause features their music at an event. That is, the artist may consider such use “detrimental to their honour or reputation”.

Where moral rights are found to have been infringed, the court may make an order for the organiser to pay damages or issue a public apology to the artist.

Moral rights are always controlled by the creator and cannot be transferred to a third party. That means a songwriter must directly provide any clearances or assurances related to moral rights.

Published songwriters can usually be reached via their publisher whereas unpublished songwriters will likely need to be approached directly for approval. Recording artists can usually be reached via their record label. APRA AMCOS or OneMusic Australia can assist with identifying who to approach. Contact hello@onemusic.com.au.

Did you know? In 2015, an iconic Australian musician publicly objected to his music being played at political rallies organised by a certain political organisation. The musician denounced the political organisation to their significant social media audience and requested their music not be played at that organisation’s rallies. The organisation agreed to cease playing that music at the rallies.

2.         “Passing Off” risk

Problem: Australian law protects the good will held in a particular good against others ‘passing off’ or misrepresenting their own goods as being affiliated with that good.

Risk: Using an artist’s music at a Political Event without permission risks giving the impression that the political party is being endorsed by that artist. A claim of “passing off” may result in a claim for damages and/or an injunction.

Solution: Get separate written approval from both songwriters and recording artists before featuring their music at your Political Event. For most commercially released music, approach the relevant publishers and record labels to discuss the necessary approvals.

More information:

“Passing off” risk may arise in circumstances where a songwriter or performer has not given prior consent and a political party or organisation uses their music in a manner that reasonably suggests or implies that the songwriter or performer is affiliated with the political party, policy, campaign or event which featured their music. This is a risk factor particularly where music is to be featured prominently at a Political Event and where an artist takes the view that the use has a detrimental impact on their established reputation.

To manage risk in relation to “Passing Off”, consider obtaining separate and specific clearances from songwriters and performers with respect to the specific content in which their music is to be used for a political purpose.

What are the risks of using music in political advertising and other videos?

1.      Copyright Risk

Problem: Without first obtaining the specific permission of the owners, no private person or organisation, including political parties, can use music that is protected by copyright in a way that sets visual images (whether moving or still) with that music, for instance in a video production (Synchronisation) such as TV advertising or online video. OneMusic Australia’s licences do not cover or provide permission for ‘Synchronisation’ rights in any way.

Risk: To use music that is protected by the Copyright Act 1968 without permission risks infringing the music owners’ copyright. A video placed on social media may be taken down by the platform if it is considered an infringement of copyright

Solution: Get separate written approval from the relevant songwriters, publishers, recording artists and record labels before using any music that is protected by copyright in your audio-visual production.

More information:

Incorporating music into any type of video content such as a political advertisement for TV or online or vlog post on social media is commonly referred to as “synchronisation” and is a type of reproduction of the musical work and sound recording, which is an exclusive right of the respective copyright owners.

Before music can be “synchronised” into video content, permission must be obtained from the owners of the synchronisation rights for the musical work (usually the publisher or songwriter) and sound recording of that music (usually the record label).

OneMusic Australia cannot provide permission for synchronisation but can assist with identifying the relevant rightsholders to approach for permission. You can lodge a query with APRA AMCOS by completing a Research Form at: www.apraamcos.com.au/music-licences/select-a-licence/find-a-copyright-owner

Social Media Takedown Rights:

All prominent social media platforms contain a “takedown” facility which allows for a copyright owner to remove from the platform, content containing infringing musical works or sound recordings. On some social media platforms, a high number of takedown requests directed to the same account can result in that account being suspended from the platform.

Rightsholders actively monitor social media platforms for content that infringes their copyright and most social media platforms contain terms of use prohibiting users from uploading content which incorporates third party copyright material without permission.

Changing Lyrics:

Lyric changes should also be pre-cleared with the publisher (or songwriter/s where there is no publisher) prior to performing live or making recordings of the music with substituted lyrics.

Without that additional permission, performing or releasing recordings of music for political purposes with changed lyrics risks being an unlicensed and infringing public performance of the musical work. Unauthorised lyric changes can also raise “moral rights” issues, covered above.

Public performance licences granted by OneMusic Australia specifically exclude performances of APRA musical works where lyrics have been substituted or changed.

Copyright and moral rights issues aside, being called out for unapproved lyric changes to well-loved songs can often result in negative media coverage and community backlash.

Did you know? In 2014, a publisher based in the United States successfully sued a political party in New Zealand for copyright infringement after the party used music in their electoral campaign that was substantially similar to a song released by a well-known US-based rapper.

2.      “Passing Off” Risk

Using an artist’s music in political advertising, campaign materials and other video content without permission raises the same “passing off” risks previously for Political Events. For most commercially released music, approach the relevant publishers and record labels to discuss the necessary approvals.

Tips on permission and managing risk

  • Act early – requesting permission can take time as different rightsholders and stakeholders may need to be approached for different types of permission for music use. Each may operate with different timeframes.
  • Seek permission no matter how much of the song is planned to be used.
  • Permission is granted at the discretion of the rightsholder – they are under no obligations to grant permission, so have alternative music choices ready if permission is refused.
  • APRA AMCOS can assist with identifying rightsholders for musical works and PPCA may be able to assist with identifying rightsholders for sound recordings.
  • Keep records of any approvals, licences and clearances you obtain.
  • Ensure the necessary approvals have been obtained before using music for political purposes reduces the risk of being called out by creators on social media and the negative publicity that often ensues.

Did you know? In 2019, the Australian publisher representing a well-known rock song from the United States sued a political party that used a re-recorded version of that song with the lyrics changed to promote their political message in advertising and on social media. The case is currently in the Australian courts.