Politics and music are not such strange bedfellows in the Internet era, and this past week proved no exception. The latest band to get dragged into the nexus was Canada’s Nickelback, who found their 2005 hit “Photograph” used in a meme which was tweeted by Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Of all the laws the president has been accused of running afoul of by opponents this week, copyright law certainly counts as the least of his problems. But it does provide a teachable moment that not even the most powerful leader in the world can borrow intellectual property without having an embarrassing blank space left in his social media feed where a supposedly hilarious joke should be.
Mocking and/or celebrating “Photograph” well pre-dates it being co-opted for political purposes. It was parodied multiple times the past decade online, both for lyrical content as well as the perhaps overly earnest music video for the song. But Trump’s campaign team saw an opportunity to popularize a new meme, featuring a photograph of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden with his son and a Ukrainian businessman. inserted into the picture frame from the first 10 seconds of the music video. The president ran with it Wednesday via a post from his twitter account. “LOOK AT THIS PHOTOGRAPH” was the sole text of the tweet, celebrated by Trump fans and mocked by the president’s opponents.
The meme itself might not have garnered as much mainstream media attention as it did this past week, were it not for the fact Warner Music filed a copyright claim against the tweet, which Twitter recognized and complied with under the Digital Millennium Copyright act. (Warner not only has rights to the master of “Photograph,” but Nickelback’s primary songwriter, Chad Kroeger, is signed to Warner/Chappell Music.)
The takedown of the content embedded within Trump’s tweet set off another round of publicity surrounding the meme on Thursday and Friday, with some fans speculating that Twitter itself decided to take down the tweet (they didn’t) or that Nickelback the band demanded the song be taken down (while it’s possible management or the band were behind the takedown request, a more likely scenario is that Warner Music on its own initiated the copyright action).
The meme is still online in many places, but it is no longer active on Trump’s Twitter account; the tweet itself hasn’t been deleted, by either the service or the president but a message where the video should be reads, “This media has been disabled in response to a report by the copyright owner.” The same is true of the tweet on Donald Trump Jr.’s timeline, although Twitter was slower to block the video content there.
According to Twitter, the company’s response to any legitimate copyright holders’ complaints “may include the removal or restriction of access to allegedly infringing material. If we remove or restrict access to user content in response to a copyright complaint, Twitter will make a good faith effort to contact the affected account holder with information concerning the removal or restriction of access, including a full copy of the complaint, along with instructions for filing a counter-notice.”
Nickelback have yet to officially comment on the dust-up. The band spent the past week in Brazil, where they are doing radio promo and playing the massive Rock In Rio festival.
Anyone speculating on whether the president might have learned his lesson about copyright protection might not have been surprised to see that, late Friday, Trump posted a new tweet that makes considerable use of footage from “Pinocchio,” with the caption ““LYIN’ SHIFTY SCHIFF!” — referring to congressman Adam Schiff. Whether Disney might ask for a take-down, or whether the more abbreviated use might fall under fair use, remained to be seen.