Music licensing company sues Cruz campaign over usage rights

First it was the Rolling Stones going after Donald Trump (with very dim prospects for success) and now the music licensing bug seems to have struck the suspended presidential campaign of Ted Cruz. This one, however, may be coming from much more solid legal footing and wind up costing the Texas senator some money. (AT&T News)

Sen. Ted Cruz’s now-defunct presidential campaign is being sued over the background music it used in two videos.

Audiosocket, a music licensing company based in Seattle and New Orleans, filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle against Cruz for President and the advertising firm Madison McQueen. It says an agreement between Audiosocket and Madison McQueen expressly barred the use of the songs for political purposes.

The lawsuit seeks hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Neither the Cruz campaign nor Madison McQueen immediately returned emails seeking comment.

This seems to be a significant variation from the Rolling Stones situation. In that case, the Stones had put their music up for general licensing and Trump’s team paid the required fees. They were unhappy with The Donald using it because of partisan, ideological differences but don’t seem to have much to complain about since the fees were paid and the rules were followed. In this case, Audiosocket apparently has a clause in their user agreement which states that their offerings can’t be used “for political purposes.”

That might lead to an interesting challenge in court in the unlikely event that it gets pushed that far and not simply settled between the two parties. I haven’t found a copy of their contract yet, but the phase “political purposes” could become a significant gray area. In Cruz’s situation, a campaign video should be a no-brainer and he may have to pay the piper on this one. But what if someone uses the music in a “message” ad from a Super PAC which is talking about an issue rather than a politician? How about an advertisement “in the public service” which is just arguing that workers deserve a higher minimum wage? The user could argue that it’s a message for employers, not legislators or voters. Of course, those are generally aired by Democrats, and they don’t get sued by musicians or the music industry so it’s purely hypothetical.

This is another situation where I find it amazing that any political neophytes – be it Donald Trump or anyone else – can survive the cauldron of a national political campaign without a staff of experience politicos behind them. I’m not talking about campaign advisers who read them the rules of the road on how to handle debates, the media or messaging. Trump has blown many of those rules out of the water. What I’m referring to is the endless list of byzantine laws, rules and traps which await any candidate out on the trail. You need to know certain things about how to get on the ballot in each state, when all the filing deadlines are, and a list of campaign contribution laws which could dwarf the entire Game of Thrones saga in book form. Then there are the myriad little regulations about intellectual property rights as we see here.

If you want to run a high profile political campaign you’re going to eventually need some help from people who know the business. And let’s not fool ourselves here… politics is most assuredly a “business” in every sense of the word these days, and a very large one at that.