I few weeks ago I blogged about the trouble John McCain was having in finding music to soundtrack his campaign.
David Lister - The Independent's arts editor - had a comment a few days later. Under the headline "Music belongs to everyone - even politicians", he argues that once a piece of music is in the public domain, it should be "used, interpreted, directed as its user sees fit". He states that by denying others the right to play their songs, musicians are stating that pop music cannot be "art".
Part of his argument is true - the user can interpret music in any way they wish. We should debate meaning and ideas in music, and once a piece is released an artist cannot be precious about holding on to their own intentions - though this sometimes causes problems due to the media attention that surrounds pop music (think of The Smiths - "Suffer Little Children" - in which Morrissey was accused of being unsymapthetic to the victims of the Moors murders).
It is the concept of "using" music that is in this case contentious. Copyright dictates that no one has the right to use any art form without the owners permisson. In the same way that it is against the law to copy great works of art and sell them, it is illegal for anyone to publicly broadcast songs without the writer's consent. For a politician to use music in their campaign, they would effectively be broadcasting to large groups to people without license.
The bigger issue is more psychological. What sets music apart from other applied arts is its versatility, and how easily it is to form associations. Music evokes powerful moods and feelings, which are instantly memorable, and sticky. This is why it is so valuable in marketing. It is impossible for me to hear "Albatross" from Fleetwood Mac without thinking about M&S products. A whole generation now thinks that Phil Collins is a giant drum playing chocolate-loving gorilla (well, not so far off) thanks to the recent Cadbury's campaign. The association people make is also easily transferrable from product to artist - José González is sometimes better known as the "bouncing ball guy" due to the use of "Heartbeats" in the Sony Bravia ad.
Politicians are brands - not people. They are selling a product, and they want music to help shift their wares. If a musician does not want to be part of this transaction, we thankfully have copyright to protect us.