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M People hit out as Liz Truss walks on stage to Moving On Up

By | Published on Thursday 6 October 2022

Liz Truss

M People’s Mike Pickering has hit at the use of his band’s track ‘Moving On Up’ as the walk-on music for Prime Minister Liz Truss’s keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham yesterday. The band’s members are “upset” and “livid” that their hit soundtracked the key moment of this year’s big Tory conference, he said, adding that many artists now “fear that these freaks are going to use [their] music”.

In a tweet shortly after Truss’s keynote speech, Pickering wrote: “So apparently we can’t stop Truss walking out to our song, very weird! So sad it got used by this shower of a government”.

Referencing the fact that the Labour Party made use of the track back in the 1990s, his tweet went on: “[By the way] Truss, Labour used it with permission in [the] 90s. I don’t want my song being a soundtrack to lies”.

Of course, there is a long history of artists getting annoyed when politicians make use of their music at political events. Generally it’s the use of music by right-wing politicians and political parties that results in angry statements being issued, usually by artists with very different political world views.

Whenever this happens, there is usually some discussion about whether or not there is anything musicians can do to stop politicians from using their music at political gatherings. After all, songs and recordings are protected by copyright, and copyright provides creators and their business partners with certain controls over what happens to their music.

However, those discussions often conclude that – because the venues that usually host these events have blanket licences from the music industry’s collecting societies, allowing them and the events they host to make use of pretty much any music – the politicians are covered copyright-wise, and all the musicians can do is moan after the fact.

But, it turns out, the main licence issued to such venues by the UK music industry – via the PPL/PRS joint venture – contains some exclusions, ie scenarios where the licence does not actually apply. And that includes “any playing or performance of music as an introduction to, during or otherwise closely connected with the presentation of any political announcement, including keynote speeches during political party conferences and campaigns”.

This means that music cannot be legally used for a politician’s walk-on music at a party conference under that licence. Such usage is only allowed, the licence document adds, if an event organiser has “obtained in advance the written permission of all relevant rightsholders”.

Now, usually in the music industry – whenever collective licensing does not apply – it is record labels and music publishers that issue the licences, in relation to recordings and songs respectively.

Those labels and publishers might actually own the recording and song copyrights being exploited, or they might manage and control them on behalf of the artists and songwriters. Whether the label or publisher needs to consult the artist or writer before issuing a licence depends on the specifics of the deals they have done with the music-makers.

However, most labels or publishers would probably not want to issue a licence for the use of any music they control by a controversial politician without getting the consent of the artist or writer first, even if such consent was not required under a record or publishing contract.

The amount of money on table from such a licensing deal is unlikely to be significant, and few labels or publishers would be in any mood to court such controversy.

According to the BBC, when asked if the Conservative Party had made any efforts to secure permission to use ‘Moving On Up’, Truss’s Press Secretary said that the Prime Minister had picked the track herself from a “range of options”, but that he didn’t know if any specific permission had been sought, adding that he didn’t have “detailed knowledge of how the licensing of this stuff works”.

We have also asked the party’s Press Office whether any licence was secured for the use of ‘Moving On Up’. Although given that we’re still waiting – twelve months on – for an answer to basically the same question but in relation to the use of Friendly Fires track ‘Blue Cassette’ as Boris Johnson’s walk-on music a year ago, I’m not super confident we’ll get any further clarity from that department.

There’s a very high chance that everyone involved the party conference just assumed – or pretended – that they were covered by the venue’s PPL/PRS licence. After all, plenty of people in the music industry have generally assumed that is the case too.

If no licences were secured for the use of ‘Moving On Up’, then the copyright in the song and the recording have likely been infringed. If so, whoever actually owns those copyrights – very possibly the label and the publisher – could sue for copyright infringement. Although, under the UK system – where we don’t have US-style statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement – the amount of damages that could be won via such litigation probably aren’t worth the hassle.

Whether the artist could sue themselves would depend on the deals they have done with their label and publisher back in the day. In theory an artist that didn’t own the copyrights could still pursue a moral rights case by arguing that Truss marching on stage to their music constituted a “derogatory treatment” of said music.

That said, moral rights aren’t particularly strong under the UK copyright system, and are often waived in record and publishing deals.

So what else? Well, left-leaning artists whose music is used by right-wing politicians in a high profile way do usually get a few minutes on the airwaves to explain just how dreadful that politician and their policies are.

“It’s the worst government in my lifetime, and my lifetime is quite long as you’ve probably worked out”, Pickering told LBC’s James O’Brien yesterday. “I think they’re despicable, I can’t stand them. From a personal point of view, being a northerner, there is no such thing as levelling up – they’re making the gap bigger, or trying”.

“There’s no trains running to the north of England at the moment”, he added. “They all lied about Partygate. They’ve lied about everything, and how can you trust them?”

The son of M People vocalist Heather Small, meanwhile, is a Labour Party councillor. He honed in on the song’s key lyric “cause I’m movin on up, you’re movin on out”, and concluded that the track was actually a very apt choice for Truss and her party.

“This tired and out of touch Tory government is indeed moving on out”, he tweeted.

So there you go. See you all here same time next year to hear from whichever artist unwillingly soundtracks the on-stage arrival of the Tory party leader – whoever it is by then – at the 2023 party conference. Assuming they don’t suddenly decide to do the right thing and get the artist’s permission next time. And assuming there is still a Conservative Party to have a conference by then, I guess.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.