Neil Young to Donald Trump: Not so fast on rockin’ in the free world.
On Tuesday, the legendary musician filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Trump’s campaign for playing his songs at campaign rallies.
“This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing,” states the complaint filed in New York federal court. “However, Plaintiff in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”
Young alleges that Trump’s campaign lacks license to publicly perform the compositions entitled “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk.” The musician notes that Trump has used his music for years dating back to the last campaign and played both songs at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20.
Young has been musing about suing Trump since his first presidential campaign, but he had a change of heart after previously being told that the campaign venues had obtained public performance licenses from ASCAP and BMI.
But as more and more musicians objected to politicians using their music, these performance rights organizations began allowing songwriters to exclude their music for political use. Now, ASCAP and BMI warn candidates that a performance license might not cover all claims by a musician. Whether or not that is allowed under the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees — the long-lasting rules for music licensing that emanated from a DOJ antitrust suit in the 1940s — is a subject that has yet to be explored in court.
Young is now willing to test out the notion that Trump is committing copyright infringement and demands that Trump be enjoined from further playing his songs. Young, represented by Robert Besser, also demands statutory damages.
Often, copyright suits against politicians settle before judgment, as the legal process is slow, and the end of campaign season obliterates the incentives for the parties to play out a case. As a result, although politicians have found limited success in the courtroom, there remains a lot of ambiguity about copyright in the political context.