Can Neil Young successfully sue Donald Trump over the use of his music in rallies? As with so many new controversies in music, it will all be a tricky copyright issue.
Young filed a lawsuit against Trump’s campaign on Tuesday, claiming that the president and his campaign team lack the right to play his songs “Rockin ‘in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” at rallies and demand statutory damages from politicians for intentional copyright infringement.
The mood is just the latest in a long line of collisions between Young and Trump – from June 2015, when Trump played “Rockin ‘in the free world” after announcing his presidential election. Trump last played Freedom cut at events in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Mount Rushmore, despite Young̵
But do musicians have a case? “It’s definitely a licensing issue,” says Gary Adelman, a New York-based entertainment company attorney at Adelman Matz. Rolling stone. He notes that the case will depend on whether the artist has specifically removed the special songs from his public performance organization’s felt licenses: “If he has withdrawn these two special songs from the BMI’s political licensing program, the Trump administration does not have a license to play them. at a political rally and they have a good case that they are more likely to win. “
Young’s complaint claims that Trump’s campaign “does not now and does not have the Tulsa Collection, has a license or plaintiff’s license to play the two songs at any public political event,” but it does not specify its license status with BMI, the performance rights organization that manages Youngs’ user rights. catalog. Neither Young nor BMI responded immediately Rolling stonerequest for comment.
Adelman notes that there is potentially a secondary infringement issue if the campaign uses songs for broadcasts. “Trump is not just doing events for the 20,000 people there – he is doing it for television and for his website,” he says. “The Trump administration will probably claim that campaigns are fleeting use, but it is not short-term use if the campaign events are set to air.”
If you feel dalready seen, it’s justified: Neil has threatened legal action against Trump’s camp for using his music for several years now, and artists including REM, Brendon Urie of Panic! at Disco, Axl Rose of Guns N ‘Roses, Elton John, Adele and the Rolling Stones have either published statements or sent termination-and-desist letters to Trump demanding that their songs stop playing at his campaign event.
After Trump used Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” at a rally in Tennessee in 2018, the singer tweeted that “I or my people would never be on or around one of these tragic rallies.” (She also sent a termination and termination.) Artists have the option to ask their performance rights organization – usually BMI or its group ASCAP – to put specific songs under a political exclusion so that their music cannot be obtained through a broad license, such as the Rolling Stones did.
But rarely have artists gone to court. The REM has threatened legal action against Trump since January but has not filed any formal complaints, for example. “A lot of this is turning public opinion around,” Adelman states. “In our very two-sided political place right now, bands are actually signaling to their own fans.”
There are also costs to consider. “No campaign should use an artist’s song without permission because it undeniably constitutes at least an implicit approval of the artist’s candidate – but it will be extremely expensive for Neil to save in court with the deep-pocketed Trump campaign,” said Lawrence Iser, a lawyer for copyright at the company Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldiseret.
The respondents have 21 days to respond from the date of the suit. The court’s decisions in cases like these usually take nine to 12 months, lawyers say, which means that a result on Young against Trump will come well after the election in November 2020.