Should We License Songs From Musicians With Questionable Personal Lives?

Gary Glitter Song in New HP Ad Touches Off Criticism

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HP is running a new ad for its TouchSmart PC featuring the song "Do You Want to Touch Me," recorded by Joan Jett in 1982, and some British publications are suggesting it's creating a commotion. But it's not exactly because the lyrics are so racy; it's because of who originally wrote those lyrics: Gary Glitter, legendary pop star and notorious sex offender. UPDATE on HP's response after the jump

Glitter (nee Paul Gadd) has been convicted of possessing child pornography in the U.K. and child molestation in Vietnam; he was recently thrown back into the glare of the media when he was released from his prison term. Sexual disorders aside, he's still the songwriter for the song in the HP ad, and is entitled to his share of publishing rights, which, according to contactmusic.com, total $156,000. So HP is (albeit indirectly) handing a giant check to a sex offender.

UPDATE: According to Associated Content, HP has pulled this ad from the U.K. (although reportedly, it hasn't run there) and in the U.S., where it has reportedly run, the music has been changed.

In the midst of the presidential race, when associations-upon-associations and surface appearances can be more powerful than anything else, this situation has a ring of familiarity. So this is the question: Should HP (or any marketer) be vetting the personal lives and reputations of musicians whose songs they license? If songwriters are just as relevant as performers, how many rungs down the creative chain are relevant? Are producers relevant too, and would that make all the works of, say, Phil Spector off-limits?

As a music listener generally unconcerned with the private lives of his favorite artists, this is more than a little troubling, and while Gary Glitter has an exceptionally disturbing past, it makes me wonder if this is a slippery slope. Look what happened to Jerry Lee Lewis in the '50s with his underaged wife; it nearly destroyed his career, and had it, we'd be sorely missing a lot of great music -- and given this history, his music has still been used in ads.

So even if most people agree "Do You Want to Touch Me" was a mistake for HP, should we apply the same level of scrutiny to all song placements? Put your answer below.



Side note: I think this ad is creatively beautiful and effective enough to make a Mac guy like myself do a double-take and wonder how HP beat Apple at its own game.
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