Ted Cruz Sued for Hundreds of Thousands Over Music in Campaign Ads

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
May 12, 2016 Updated: October 5, 2018

Unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz was hit by a lawsuit over using two songs in his campaign ads without proper license.

Music licensing company Audiosocket filed the lawsuit on May 9 and seeks awards of at least $200,000.

The company alleges that Madison McQueen, an advertising firm hired by Cruz’s campaign, downloaded two songs from Audiosocket under a license that specifically prohibits use for political purposes.

Madison McQueen not only used the songs in campaign ads for Cruz, but even put one of the ads on cable (through Fox Business News)—another prohibited use under the license.

Audiosocket makes music available for download and commercial use for a one-off fee. It then splits the fee with the artists.

It uses a software that tags the music files when they’re downloaded so they can be tracked on the Internet.

The first song, “Lens” by Sarah Schachner, was downloaded by Madison McQueen employee Robert Perkins in September 2015, the lawsuit alleges. In December the ad firm entered into a Small Business Licensing Agreement for the song that prohibits, among other things, use on cable and use for political purposes.

The ad firm didn’t tell Audiosocket the song will be used for a political ad, but it contacted Audiosocket 2 months later and asked for permission to use the song on cable.

Audiosocket, learning the song was used in a political ad, contacted Schachner, the artist, and asked for permission. Schachner declined.

Madison McQueen put the ad on Fox anyway and it has been aired at least 86 times, according to the lawsuit.

The ad was called “Victories” and has since been taken down from the Cruz campaign YouTube channel. The Internet Archive snapshot of the Youtube page dated May 4 shows the video has been viewed almost 80,000 times.

The second song, “Fear of Complacency” by Robert Perkins (who also produces under the name Sleevenotes), was also downloaded by Perkins in September and then licensed in January under the same agreement as the first song.

The ad firm produced a campaign ad called “Best to Come” using the song and “shockingly” put it on YouTube one day before entering into a licensing agreement for the song, the lawsuit states.

The video has also been since taken down from the campaign’s YouTube account, but a May 4 snapshot of the page shows it has been viewed almost 13,000 times.

Beside attorney fees, Audiosocket seeks $25,000 for a breach of contract for each song in addition to damages in an amount determined by the court. It also claims each of the artists suffered damages exceeding $75,000.

Cruz’s pick of the Los Angeles-based Madison McQueen has paid off in other ways. The spots it produced have been praised by multiple media as unconventional, creative, and entertaining.

Cruz has not been the only one facing trouble over campaign music.

Multiple artists, including the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Adele, and R.E.M, have said they haven’t authorized presidential candidate Donald Trump to use their music. Rolling Stones and R.E.M also asked him to stop using their music during campaign events.

In these cases candidates don’t necessarily have to ask the artist for a permission, as long as they get a public performance license from a performance-rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Artists may still sue the campaign if they think their image has been used without permission, their trademark is being diluted or confused, or if their work is used in a way that implies they support or endorse a certain candidate, according to a Q&A sheet on the matter produced by ASCAP.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.