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Liberal musicians to GOP: Hands off our songs!

Singers and bands in pop, rock, and hip-hop have become increasingly vigilant about their music being used to tacitly endorse candidates. Starting with Bruce Springsteen denouncing the Reagan campaign for appropriating 'Born in the USA,' the political-pop spats have become increasingly common.

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Get ready for many, many encores. Another presidential campaign season approaches, and that means the inevitable music wars will follow faster than you can say New Hampshire. 

In January, the Dropkick Murphys went after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, for using their song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” as his introduction before a speech in, yes, Iowa. The band sent Governor Walker a Twitter message that began: “please stop using our music in any way … !!!”

Singers and bands in pop, rock, and hip-hop have become increasingly vigilant about their music being used to tacitly endorse candidates. Irving Berlin backed President Eisenhower with a theme song in the 1950s but, starting with Bruce Springsteen denouncing the Reagan campaign for appropriating “Born in the USA,” the political-pop spats have become increasingly common.

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In fact, you could fill a jukebox with the songs bands and singers have sought, and, in some cases, sued to keep out of campaigns. Sometimes, the issue is pure politics, as with the labor-friendly Dropkick Murphys and union-buster Walker. In many cases, permission and licensing weren’t obtained. The issue is so common that the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers dedicates part of its website to song usage.

Many pop stars lean left, making the GOP’s potential soundtrack smaller. There are exceptions, such as Kid Rock granting Mitt Romney free use of his hit “Born Free” in 2012.

Jason Johnson, author of “Political Consultants and Campaigns,” believes the riff rifts emanate as much from artists hoping to remain apolitical, or true to their audience, as they do ideology.

“Anything contemporary a politician can glom onto, they’re going to,” Mr. Johnson says. “The difference is ... how organic the relationship is. That’s where we get to why people are saying no. No one has any doubt that Barack Obama probably does listen to Jay Z.... Would people have believed ... George Bush was listening to Kanye [West]? No.” 

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