Can Neil Young silence Donald Trump?


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 tricky copyright issue.Young filed a lawsuit against Trump’s campaign on Tuesday, saying the president and his campaign team did not have the proper rights to perform his songs “Rockin ‘in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” at rallies and demanding of the politician’s statutory damages for willful copyright infringement.

The trial is just the latest in a long line of clashes between Young and Trump – dating back to June 2015, when Trump played “Rockin ‘in the Free World” after announcing his run for president. Trump most recently played Freedom cut at events in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Mount Rushmore, despite Young’s longstanding objection.

But does the musician have a case? “It’s absolutely a licensing issue,” says Gary Adelman – a New York-based entertainment lawyer at Adelman Matz. Rolling stone. He notes that the case will depend on whether the artist specifically removed these particular songs from the general licenses of his public performance organization: “If he removed these two particular songs from BMI’s political licensing program, so the Trump administration is unlicensed to play them at a political rally and they have good reason to believe that they are more likely to win.

Young’s complaint alleges that the Trump campaign “did not now, and did not have at the time of the Tulsa rally, a license or permission from the plaintiff to perform both songs at a public political event,” but it does not specify its license status with BMI, the performance rights organization that manages the rights to use the Young catalog. Neither Young nor BMI immediately responded Rolling stonerequest for comment from.

Adelman notes that there is potentially a secondary infringement issue if the campaign uses songs for broadcasts. “Trump doesn’t just do events for the 20,000 people there – he does it for television and for his website,” he says. “The Trump administration will likely argue that campaigns are fleeting use, but it is not fleeting use if campaign events are set to air. ”

If you feel dalready seen, it’s justified: Neil threatens legal action against the Trump camp for using his music for years now, and artists such as REM, Brendon Urie of Panic! at the nightclub, Axl Rose of Guns N ‘Roses, Elton John, Adele and the Rolling Stones either issued public statements or sent cease and desist letters to Trump asking that their songs stop being played during his campaign events.

After Trump used Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” at a rally in Tennessee in 2018, the singer tweeted that “Neither I nor my people would ever be at or around any of these tragic gatherings . (She also sent a cease-and-desist.) Artists have the option of asking their performing rights organization – usually BMI or its peer group ASCAP – to place specific songs under political exclusion so that their music cannot be obtained through broad licensing, as the Rolling Stones did.

But artists rarely went to court. REM has threatened legal action against Trump since January but has not filed any formal complaints, for example. “A big part of this is influencing public opinion,” Adelman notes. “In our very dual political stance right now, bands are signaling to their own fans.”

There is also the cost to consider. “No campaign should use an artist’s song without permission, as it undeniably constitutes at least an implied endorsement of the candidate by the artist – but it will be extremely costly for Neil to practice in court with the Trump campaign,” »Says Lawrence Iser, copyright lawyer at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert.

Defendants have 21 days to respond from the date of filing of the complaint. Court rulings in cases like these typically take nine to 12 months, according to lawyers, meaning a result on Young against Trump will be expected well after the November 2020 election.


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