Twenty-twenty Democrat presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren used Dolly Parton’s 1980 hit song “9 to 5” as the soundtrack to her own announcement for her presidential bid, but Parton herself most certainly did not authorize that use of her song, her manager says via Fox News.
“9 to 5,” which was the title song on the soundtrack to the hit movie of the same name, is about the struggle of working Americans slugging it out in the workplace. The movie it accompanies is itself about a group of women who overcome a hostile workplace to take revenge on their boss.
As such, the song could be seen as a fitting anthem for Warren, whose platform for her 2020 bid includes efforts aimed to address the plight of the American worker. And indeed, the Massachusetts senator had that very song playing in the background when she announced her candidacy a few weeks ago.
But there’s a problem: Dolly Parton did not authorize Warren to use that song, says Parton’s manager Danny Nozell. It’s not out of partisanship: Parton simply doesn’t allow any of her songs to be used by any political candidates of any party.
Can a political candidate use an artist’s song without their permission?
The answer is complicated, and indeed, there may not even be an answer.
Officially, in order for a song to be performed publicly, the venue at which the song is played simply has to pay a licensing fee to a music rights-management group such as ASCAP or BMI, according to Rolling Stone. That ensures that the song’s copyright holder gets his or her share of the royalties for the public performance.
“In the richest country in the history of the world,” Elizabeth Warren said Friday, at a rally in Long Island City, “people should not be sleeping on the streets because they don’t have money.” https://t.co/nInSCcDbDO
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) March 10, 2019
However, over the years, multiple artists have sent cease-and-desist letters and/or publicly complained when a candidate they don’t like has been performing one of their songs. In every such case in which this has happened, the candidate has stopped playing the song rather than to attempt to battle it out in court.
As of this writing, no such case has gone to court, so there is no legal precedent saying that a politician can or cannot use a song at political rallies against the copyright holder’s wishes. And indeed, such a situation is unlikely to go to court since, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, politicians have universally simply quit playing the song.
What about Dolly Parton’s politics?
Parton, for her part, has kept her political beliefs to herself, refusing to publicly comment on political issues at all. She said in an interview years ago that her audience deserves better.
“I respect my audience too much for that, I respect myself too much for that. Of course I have my own opinions, but that don’t mean I got to throw them out there because you’re going to p**s off half the people.”
As of this writing, Warren’s campaign has not publicly responded to Nozell’s request that she no longer use “9 to 5” for her (Warren’s) political purposes.