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Plagiarized campaign jingles

With less than two weeks to go before we elect a new set of senators and local government officials, the airwaves are being saturated with audio and video political advertisements.

The campaign slogans and jingles aim to create favorable name recall for the candidates. These activities are more intense at the local level where solicitation of votes is done grassroots-style or house to house.

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As early as 9 in the morning and up to early evening, motor vehicles mounted with loudspeakers move around the streets playing the candidates’ spiels and jingles.

The pitches are usually done to the tune or style of foreign or local songs that have become popular or gained a lot of traction in social media.

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Thanks to the creativity of their composers, the adaptations are often catchy and entertaining. Their ability to create instant name recall makes them effective campaign tools that can be carried over to Election Day.

While the campaign strategists may be congratulating themselves for producing those materials, the songwriters concerned can only shake their heads in frustration over the blatant theft and misuse of the products of their musical or artistic genius.

Except probably for a few, majority of the candidates who use campaign jingles that rhyme with or are knockoffs of popular songs do so without the express permission of their writers.

As if by habit, the plagiarism happens every election campaign period. The practice goes on despite repeated pleas by the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (the government office that registers patents and copyrights) and Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. to respect the copyright of songwriters.

There seems to be the mistaken notion that because a song is frequently aired on radio, or sang in television shows, it becomes public property and therefore available for use, free of charge, by anybody.

Although ignorance of the law on respecting intellectual property rights is not a valid excuse, the nonlawyers among the candidates may be “forgiven” for their failure to secure prior permission to use the songs.

But not so for lawyer-candidates who should know that musical or artistic compositions cannot be appropriated for personal use without their authors’ express consent.

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It does not require special legal education for those candidates to understand that products of the intellect are considered property and therefore entitled to protection from unauthorized seizure, as what happens when they are used as campaign materials without prior permission.

In the same way that lawyers are entitled to compensation for services rendered to their clients, so do songwriters who spent time, money and effort to compose their songs. They are entitled to a royalty or commission whenever their compositions are used.

Aside from lack of knowledge about intellectual property rights, the continued violation of copyright may be attributed to the inadequate or poor enforcement of our copyright laws.

Except for a copyright infringement case over a song that was won more than 10 years ago, there has been no other instance when a songwriter has been able to successfully sue for damages.

The reluctance to go to court for copyright infringement is understandable. In the first place, the costs of litigation are not cheap. Then the judicial proceedings take years to finish on account of the clogged court dockets and unfamiliarity of the judges with intellectual property laws.

Sadly, under these circumstances, the songwriters whose copyright have been unlawfully appropriated can only wish that the candidates who have violated their rights suffer the effects of the eternal law of karma, i.e., lose in their electoral bids.

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