The Los Angeles-based band's attorney sent a cease and desist letter to the Republican presidential candidate's campaign on Wednesday. A news release says neither the band nor its representatives were contacted for permission to use the 2009 alternative rock hit and the group "has no intention of endorsing the Romney campaign."
"We don't like people going behind our backs, using our music without asking, and we don't like the Romney campaign," Silversun Pickups lead singer Brian Aubert said in the statement. "We're nice, approachable people. We won't bite. Unless you're Mitt Romney! We were very close to just letting this go because the irony was too good. While he is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign, we doubt that 'Panic Switch' really sends the message he intends."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email that the song was inadvertently played during the setup for one event before Romney arrived. The band learned about it in a tweet from Romney's North Carolina stopover.
"As anyone who attends Gov. Romney's events knows, this is not a song we would have played intentionally," she wrote. "That said, it was covered under the campaign's regular blanket license, but we will not play it again."
Saul says the campaign has licensing agreements with BMI and ASCAP.
Silversun Pickups publicist Ken Weinstein says the group and its team don't agree that the song's use is covered. Attorney Tamara Milagros-Butler said she received a call from the campaign's general counsel within about an hour of sending the letter.
"As the former governor (of) the state of Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and candidate for U.S. President, we're pretty sure you're familiar with the laws of this great country of ours," it reads in part. "We're writing because we, like you, think these laws are important."
Milagros-Butler said the band is pleased with the result. She said it was important for politicians to respect musicians' rights.
"Hard-working folks like them who have worked for years, and years and years building the value of their copyright" know the law and that they have to be vigilant about their rights, she said.
"Panic Switch," which seems to be an indictment of "red views" that "keep ripping the divide," helped the quartet earn a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 2009 and joins a long list of songs allegedly purloined by politicians.
These types of dustups are nothing new.
There was Ronald Reagan's appropriation of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." Tommy Petty and Michelle Bachmann squared off over "American Girl." And John McCain's campaign ran afoul of a number of acts in 2008, including Jackson Browne and Foo Fighters.
Republican candidates aren't always targeted. Soul singer Sam Moore asked President Barack Obama to stop the use of "Soul Man" in his 2008 campaign.
AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report from Los Angeles.