MSNBC reports that the McCain campaign is being asked by the Foo Fighters to stop playing “My Hero” at political rallies. The band released a statement claiming:
To have [the song] appropriated without our knowledge and used in a manner that perverts the original sentiment of the lyric just tarnishes the song.
Only property can be “appropriated”, not copyrighted work. Unfortunately, the Foo Fighters mistakenly refer to copyright as “Intellectual Property” which just confuses the issue. However, if we insist on playing the “property” analogy game, the closest action to “appropriation” would be to claim authorship. The McCain camp did not do this.
The only way to “tarnish” a copyrighted work is to change it and distribute or perform the derivative work without notice of the adjustments. Even then, “tarnish” is really in the eye of the beholder. There is no “tarnishing” when using a context (e.g. a rally) in trying to persuade an audience toward an interpretation of an original work left intact. And while an exception to persuasion would surely be a rally promoting hatred, the McCain campaign is at worst promoting stupidity, not hate. So long as the song’s attribution stays intact, it’s used non-commercially, and is non-derivative in nature, I lean heavily toward laws allowing such uses of published art, regardless of how much I sympathize with the Foo Fighters in this case.
Putting the law aside however, I see it in the best interest of the McCain camp to cease using the song and honor the request of the artist. Politically, they’ve nothing to gain by fighting the Foos on this one.