Elections in Nicaragua are less than a month away, which means the criminal misuse of American pop songs — artistically speaking — as a means of marketing the various candidates to the all-important Youth of the Country has just about hit its awful peak.
Sometimes the songs are almost endearingly awful, as when 79-year-old businessman and conservative presidential candiate Fabio Gadea airs television ads set to a repurposed — and still awful — Black Eyed Peas song. Other times, as in the case of certain local candidate for office here in the southwestern department of Rivas by the fucking name of “Alejandro,” it’s enough to drive a nice anarcho-pacifist boy into a fit of violent, unthinking rage, particularly when said asshole plants his campaign truck right outside your apartment and blares his unofficial theme for the better part of a Saturday.
But I’m ranting.
Recently, the Central American tradition of using bad pop music to sell even worse politicians made news when a certain mom-and-pop corporation by the name of Sony Entertainment decided it didn’t like Sandinista leader and odds-on favorite to win Nicaragua’s presidential election Daniel Ortega’s use of the 1961 hit “Stand by Me.”
Now, I don’t much like the song either. Or at least I don’t now that I’ve heard three times a day for the past four months. But Sony’s problem with it is a bit different than mine: it contends the Sandinistas’ appropriation of the tune constitutes a “serious infringement” of the company’s copyright over the half-century-old song. And that’s a big no-no.
“We don’t allow our songs to be used by political campaigns,” Jimmy Asci, a spokesman for company, explained in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.
Of course, the actual song being used by Mr. Ortega is nothing like the one recorded by Ben E. King 50 years ago. The words are completely different; it doesn’t even say “stand by me.” It’s in Spanish. And it’s about Nicaragua. And peace and love, two themes that if adopted by any major candidate in the United States would get them laughed right off the stage of the prime-time CNN debate brought to you by Lockheed-Martin.
Intellectual property laws ostensibly exist to encourage artists to create art because, as we all know, the best musicians are those in it for the money. But that’s not the issue here: the guy who recorded the original “Stand by Me” has made his cash. The issue is a major company’s ability to make even more money off of another’s work — and to prevent that work from being used in ways its executive board doesn’t deem acceptable, which would be called “censorship” if carried out by a state but is called plain old “capitalism” when it involves a state-chartered corporation reliant on the legal machinery of the state.
Judging by the country’s complete and thoroughly admirable lack of respect for those intellectual property laws, however — I’ve yet to see a “legitimate” CD or DVD in my 10 months here — I’m guessing Nicaragua will triumph.