Can Neil Young successfully sue Donald Trump for using his music at rallies? As with so many recent music controversies, it all comes down to a difficult copyright issue.
Young sued Trump’s campaign on Tuesday, arguing that the president and his campaign team did not have the appropriate rights to play his songs “Rockin ‘in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” at rallies and demanded legal damages from a deliberate copyright policy. right violation.
The case is just the latest in a long line of clashes between Young and Trump – since June 2015, when Trump played “Rockin in the Free World” after announcing his candidacy for president. Trump is playing soon freedom cut off from events in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Mount Rushmore, despite Young̵
But is there a case for the musician? “This is an absolute licensing,” said Gary Adelman, a New York entertainment business lawyer at Adelman Matz. Rolling stone. He notes that the case depends on whether the performer has specifically removed these specific songs from the licenses to cover his public organization: “If he has withdrawn these two songs from [BMI or ASCAP’s] political licensing program, then the Trump administration does not have a license to play them at a political rally and they have a good chance that they are more likely to win. “
Young’s complaint alleges that Trump’s campaign “does not currently exist and was not present at the Tulsa rally, received a license or permission from the plaintiff to play both songs at any public political event,” but did not specify the status. its licensing with BMI or ASCAP, the enforcement rights organizations that manage the rights to use the various pieces of Young. A source close to the issue says that the management of Young’s catalog is divided between the two groups and some songs have been withdrawn through political exclusion in the past. Young did not answer immediately Rolling stonerequest for comment.
Adelman notes that there is potentially a secondary problem with violations if the campaign uses songs for broadcasts. “Trump doesn’t just do events for 20,000 people there – he does it for television and for his website,” he said. “The Trump administration is likely to argue that the campaigns are ephemeral, but it is not ephemeral if the events in the campaign are set to be broadcast.”
If you feel dalready seen, that’s justified: Neil threatens to sue Trump’s camp for using his music for years and performers, including REM, Brendan Uri of Panic! at the disco, Axl Rose of Guns N ‘Roses, Elton John, Adele and the Rolling Stones have issued public statements or sent termination letters to Trump asking them to stop playing their songs during his campaigns.
After Trump used Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” at a rally in Tennessee in 2018, the singer tweeted that neither “me nor my people will ever be at or around one of these tragic rallies.” (She also sent a truce.) Artists have the opportunity to ask their performance rights organization – which is usually BMI or its partner ASCAP – to place specific songs under political exclusion so that their music cannot be obtained through a broad license. as did the Rolling Stones.
But artists rarely went to court. REM has been threatening lawsuits against Trump since January, but has not filed formal complaints, for example. “A lot of it is to shake public opinion,” Adelman said. “In our multifaceted political space right now, bands are actually signaling their own fans.”
There are also costs to consider. “No campaign should use an artist’s song without permission, as it undoubtedly represents the artist’s slightest tacit approval – but it will be costly for Neil to go to court with Trump’s deep pocket campaign,” said Lawrence Iser. , copyright at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert.
Defendants have 21 days to respond from the date of the case file. Court rulings in cases like these typically take nine to 12 months, lawyers say, which means that the result against Young vs. Trump will come long after the November 2020 election.