Many Artists Sued Donald Trump For Using Their Song

Bruce Springsteen against Ronald Reagan, Bobby McFerrin against George HW Bush, Sting against George W. Bush, and Jackson Browne against John McCain: That musicians in the USA take action against – mostly conservative – politicians because they play their music against their will at election campaign events, is nothing new.

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Neil Young Sued Donald Trump

Since Donald Trump got involved in the election campaign with his pompous rallies in 2015, it has become a popular sport for pop stars to sue the politician. The unprecedented wave of injunctions became the hallmark of Trump’s presidency.

Canadian-American musician Neil Young sued Donald Trump. He accuses him of copyright infringement. His songs “Rockin ‘in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” were played at the controversial and little-attended election campaign event on July 5th in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Young’s lawyers wrote in the complaint that the artist “cannot with a clear conscience allow his music to be used as the ‘theme song’ for a society-divisive, un-American election campaign full of ignorance and hatred”.

The Rolling Stones have a solution

The Rolling Stones fared similarly. When Trump left the stage in Tulsa with the guitar riffs of the Stones classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the barrel for the Stones overflowed. Despite several injunctions by the band, Trump has repeatedly used the song at election rallies since 2016.

The Rolling Stones have raised objections. The result: Your songs may no longer be used for political purposes. Such use is now a violation of the license agreement – whether this will stand in a court of law is still unclear.

Artists don’t want to be involved with Trump’s populism

According to US attorney Greg Kanaan, who has his firm in Connecticut, this isn’t about copyright or licensing agreements. Instead, it is a problem that affects an artist’s reputation and his brand.

“If the use of a song by a politician gives the buyer of the music the impression that the musician is supporting the politician, and if this connection then damages the musician’s reputation,” the artists could fall back on a law regulating trademark infringement. This is known as “The Lantham Act,” wrote attorney Kanaan in 2015 on his blog.

At that time, Donald Trump’s election campaign, which had just started, was covered by a wave of injunctions for unauthorized use of music – including by the band REM, whose music was played at a Trump rally in Washington DC.

“Don’t use our music or my voice in your mind-boggling monkey drama from election campaigns,” frontman Michael Stipe wrote in an email.

But lawsuits for trademark infringements have almost never been successful in court in the past, explains US attorney Kanaan. It is difficult to gauge what impression the use of a piece of music for political purposes makes on potential buyers.