Sing for Your Rights [PDF] - National Constitution Center

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Sing for Your Rights [PDF] - National Constitution Center

Sing for Your RightsOverviewSongs, song lyrics, and musical performances are formsof speech protected by the First Amendment. TheConstitution protects authors’ and inventors’ exclusiveproperty rights for limited times over their creativeworks. Further, the Fifth Amendment protects propertyowners by ensuring: “No person shall be … deprived oflife, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Allof these constitutional protections have helped musicflourish in the United States and have allowed musiciansto give voices to their ideas and to generations. In thislesson, students will understand the ways the Constitutionprotects the rights of citizens who express themselvesthrough music.related Activities• Music and Historical NarrativeExplore how music has shaped Americans’understanding of their history.• Born in the U.S.A.: Music asPolitical ProtestAnalyze Springsteen’s use of irony andmetaphor in this song that is more complexthan it might first appear.• Debate It!Role play two First Amendmentscenarios and decide where you stand!Developed in partnership with the Bill of Rights InstituteNational Constitution CenterDeveloped inpartnership with theBill of Rights Institute


teacher notesLearning GoalsStudents will understand:• The First Amendmentprotects individualexpression in music as aform of free speech.• Several property protectionsin the Constitution, includingArticle I, Section 8, and theFifth Amendment, protectthe rights of musicians totheir intellectual property.• The principles of freedom ofspeech and private propertyare central to the rights ofcitizens to express theirviews through music.pre-reading activities• Read the First and FifthAmendments and underlineall the protections thatapply to songwritersand musicians. Use theInteractive Constitution tohelp guided reading, whichcan be found at http://ratify.constitutioncenter.org/constitution/index_no_flash.php• What are some songs youknow that have politicalmessages?• In addition to song lyrics,what are other waysmusicians can express theirideas? Brainstorm with apartner or two and come upwith a list.ExtensionsA. In 1984, Ronald Reagan referred to BruceSpringsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” at a reelectioncampaign event. Reagan had neither ask for norreceived permission from Springsteen to referencehis song. When Springsteen learned that he wasbeing associated with a presidential candidatewithout his permission, he commented to RollingStone magazine, “You see in the election ads onTV, you know, ‘It’s morning in America.’ Well, it’s notmorning in Pittsburg.”How does this series of events illustrate theprinciples of freedom of speech as well as privateproperty?Is it important that the author’s original messagestays intact when someone else uses his or herwork to express an opinion?How does this series of events illustrate thecomplex nature of property rights?• What if he put pictures of Springsteen’s albumcover on bumper stickers?• What if Reagan had played the song at acampaign event?• What if he played Springsteen’s music at anevent in which he profited by selling tickets?B. Learn more about the case of Grand UprightMusic, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc (1991), whichrequired that musicians who wished to sampleothers’ original sound recordings in their musicmust first get permission.


Freedom of Expression in MusicHe could hear the crowd’s roar intensify ashe grabbed his guitar and strutted on stage.He was nervous. Not because of the sea ofpeople before him, all dressed in red, white,and blue. They didn’t make him nervous –they energized him. He was nervous becausethe song he was about to sing was a newone. No one had heard it before, though ithad been in his heart for years. He was aboutto give voice to something he’d had insidehim for a long, long time ….The First Amendment to the United StatesConstitution requires that “Congress shallmake no law … abridging the freedom ofspeech.” The Founders listed this right inthe Bill of Rights because they believed freespeech to be among the rights that all peopleare born with, and because it was of centralimportance to free government. Songs, songlyrics, and musical performances are forms ofspeech protected by the First Amendment.The founding documents also protect musicas a form of property. Article I, Section 8of the United States Constitution protectsauthors’ and inventors’ exclusive propertyrights over their creative works. In addition,the Fifth Amendment protects propertyowners by ensuring that “No person shallbe … deprived of life, liberty, or propertywithout due process of law.” Both of theseconstitutional protections—the right toexpress oneself and the right to ownproperty—have helped music flourish in theUnited States and have allowed musicians togive voice to their ideas and to generations.Music as SpeechArtists, including musicians, exercise freedomof speech regularly as they write andperform songs about anything from their ownchildhood experiences to important politicaland historical events. While not all listenersmay agree with the message of the music, theFirst Amendment guarantees that musicianswill be free from government interferencewith their expression of their views —evencontroversial ones. In fact, protecting citizens’right to speak freely and criticize governmentwas one of the key reasons the FirstAmendment was added to the Constitution.Bruce Springsteen, through songs andconcerts, has used his music to expresspolitical views. Many musicians, includingSpringsteen, use their music to spread theirpolitical ideas and beliefs. They recognizethat powerful words put to music have thepotential to galvanize a generation. Songslike Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”expressed frustration during and after theVietnam War. In 2012, Springsteen releaseda single entitled “We Take Care of Our Own”about the response of government andcommunities to Hurricane Katrina. In additionDeveloped in partnership with the Bill of Rights InstituteNational Constitution Center


to writing songs about political matters,Springsteen has engaged in the politicalprocess by playing concerts in support ofpresidential candidates including GeorgeMcGovern, John Kerry, and Barack Obama.Musicians can use their voices to influencethe public about issues and ideas under theprotection of free speech.Music as PropertyMusicians’ property rights are protected byArticle I of the United States Constitution aswell as several amendments in the Bill ofRights. Property protections appear in halfof the ten amendments in the Bill of Rightsbecause the Founders believed that theprotection of private property was of centralimportance. The Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh,and Eighth Amendments all deal with someaspect of property protections. When peoplethink about property they usually thinkof tangible things like land, houses, andcars. But property also includes intellectualproperty, such as inventions and creativeworks. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitutionstates that Congress has the power tosecure “for limited times to authors andinventors the exclusive right to theirrespective writings and discoveries.”This clause means that Congress canassign temporary copyright protectionsto the creators of songs, books, articles,and other creative materials.the arrival of music sharing websites, theproperty rights clauses in the Bill of Rightsand Constitution came to the forefront ina new way. Many musicians and recordcompanies believe that downloadingmusic for free was infringing upon theircopyrighted property. Sites like Napster,which allowed people to share music fileswith each other, were shut down for illegallygiving out copyrighted material.Musicians are free to express their views intheir songs and actions. Springsteen saidas much when he remarked, “I think that itis what film and art and music do; they canwork as a map of sorts of your feelings.”Musicians can use their voices to defend theirpositions on political and societal issues andinfluence others. Their property is protectedunder copyright laws. Freedom of Speechand property rights of musicians and otherartists are protected by the United StatesConstitution and the Bill of Rights. Yet, thepractice of illegally downloading music stillcontinues today and has serious implicationsfor the music industry.The Internet has challenged propertyrights protections. Songwriters,musicians, record companies,production companies, and the likeown the rights to their music, but withOne of Springsteen’s numeroushand-written lyric manuscriptsNational Constitution CenterDeveloped in partnership with the Bill of Rights Institute


Comprehension Questions1. How does the Constitution protect the free speech rights of musicians?__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________2. How does the Constitution protect musicians’ rights to their intellectual property?__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________3. How have Bruce Springsteen and other popular musicians used freedom of speech andexpression in their music?__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________4. What arguments do musicians, production companies, and record companies make againstmusic sharing websites?__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Critical Thinking Questions1. What do you think Springsteen meant when he said, “I like songs to be read bothpersonally and politically”?2. What risks do musicians take when they use music to express political views?3. What other forms of art depend on freedom of expression and property rights?4. What political or cultural impact does music have on you?5. Copyright law in the United States includes provisions for “Fair Use” of others’materials. Generally, copying a song in whole or in part is considered a violation ofthe author’s copyright. How should courts interpret copyright law when analyzingcopyright violation claims in cases where one artists samples, or includes, parts ofother sound recordings in their songs?Developed in partnership with the Bill of Rights InstituteNational Constitution Center

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