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Using Music During an Election Campaign?

Regardless of a campaign’s intended use of music, there are several things a campaign should consider before ‘pressing play’.

The public use of recorded music in Canada requires obtaining necessary licenses and permissions. Users must either ensure that required licenses have been obtained for playing music at a live event or including it in a broadcast or internet spot and that required consents are obtained from the appropriate rights holders, or satisfy themselves that no license is required in the circumstances. These guidelines are provided to clarify for election campaigns which licenses and permissions are generally required, and to ensure that artists are properly and fairly compensated.

Using Music at a Public Venue

Playing recorded music in public (including at a commercial establishment) triggers the requirement for the venue (or the renter) to obtain a number of licenses, which compensate various copyright holders for use of their music. These licenses are obtained from organizations known as collective societies.

Playing recorded music in public requires two licenses: one covering the musical work (the lyrics and composition) (licensed by SOCAN[1]), and one covering the artist’s recording of the work (licensed by Re:Sound[2]). Both are typically obtained by the venue and billed to the campaign. Therefore, election campaign officials should inquire and assure themselves that the venue is properly licensed to play the selected music. It should be noted, however, that some larger venues (i.e. convention centres, hotels, etc.) may have exclusions in their rental agreements that require the user to obtain the licenses on their own behalf.

Using Music in a Video

If a campaign wants to include a song in an internet or television ad or video, “synchronization” and “master use” licenses must be obtained. These licenses cover the rights that are necessary to incorporate the musical work and the recording into the video, and are usually available directly from: (1) the music publisher (for the use of the musical work); and (2) the record label (for the use of the artist’s recording of the song).

Obtain Artist Permission

Simply paying the licensing fees to publicly use a song may not prevent an artist from attempting to stop its use. There have been instances in both Canada and the U.S. where artists have publicly balked at their song being used in a campaign. Artists (including performers and songwriters) may object that such a use is an unauthorized implied endorsement or a violation of the artist’s moral rights of integrity and association. Therefore, it may not be enough to simply pay the required licensing fees as described above. If an artist does not authorize the use of their song in a campaign, they may claim that it interferes with their ability to exploit their (own) personality, image or name. The artist could also complain if the use harms his or her reputation, due to the song’s use in the campaign or because the song has been distorted or modified.

To protect against claims for improper use of a song, campaigns are advised to: (1) ensure all license fees are paid (as described above); and (2) seek artist authorization for all uses of a song during an election campaign – particularly where the music will figure prominently during a campaign or event.

How Can Music Canada Help?

Music Canada is a non-profit trade organization that represents the major record companies in Canada. We are passionate advocates for music in Canada, a respected forum in the music business, and a trusted source of information about the music industry. Music Canada also works with some of the leading independent record labels and distributors, recording studios, live music venues, concert promoters, managers and artists in the promotion and development of the music cluster. While we can’t give you permission to use music in a campaign or provide you with related legal advice, we would be happy to help inform and connect you with the appropriate contacts in the music industry to licence and obtain artists’ permission for use of their works. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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If you require additional information, please contact:

Sarah Kilpatrick, Director of Legal Affairs

Music Canada


[1] For additional assistance on obtaining a license, SOCAN can be reached at 1-866-944-6210.

[2] For additional assistance on obtaining a license, Re:Sound can be reached at 1-877-309-5770.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE: This document is for general information purposes only, and is not intended as and should not be relied upon as legal advice or a legal opinion.