Updated: Jul 4, 2022
Musicians try to stop Trump from playing their music on the campaign trail.
There’s a long history of musicians trying to stop politicians from using their songs at campaign events, but it hasn’t always worked out for the musician. Here’s a good list compiled by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2015, Stop Using My Song: 35 Artists Who Fought Politicians Over Their Music.
Campaigns typically purchase a “Political Entities License”, similar to a Public Performance License secured by bars, restaurants, and retail stores, which allows them to play music held by the rights society without fear of copyright infringement. Historically, and to the dismay of many musicians, there has been little recourse for artists trying to prevent establishments or politicians from using their music. On numerous occasions artists have taken to social media to decry the use of their songs but campaigns in general and the Trump campaign in particular have often chosen to ignore these complaints.
If pursuing legal action, artists typically try to stop their music from playing at political rallies via two routes:
The Political Entities License does include a provision that allows artists to exclude themselves from the license if they object to the use. The rights societies, BMI or ASCAP, then convey this message to the campaign. Regardless, some campaigns (including Trump's) choose to ignore these warnings, continuing to use artist's songs without permission.
The other option is for the artist to sue under the Lanham Act and associated “right of publicity” laws. While this tactic usually has great success, it is on a much longer timeline, often negating the purpose of a lawsuit since the campaigns are likely over by the time the cases can make their way through the courts.
Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler won a lawsuit filed against the Trump campaign two years ago. He was able to successfully argue that use of Aerosmith’s songs created a false impression of an endorsement under federal trademark law (the Lanham act). He further added that use of his songs implied Tyler's support of the president, which he clearly did not. Rihanna made a similar argument when Trump used her song “Don’t Stop the Music”, and in the past few months, Neil Young, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Brendon Urie, and the estate of Tom Petty have all taken issue to their music being played at Trump events. Most recently, in June of this year, The Rolling Stones threatened legal action against the Trump campaign for using their classic, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, as the closer at Trump’s political rallies. The Trump Campaign hasn’t used a Rolling Stones song since this threatened lawsuit.
Mostly, these cases are now being resolved by the public pressure and the cost-benefit analysis of bad PR. The future will hold what the Trump campaign decides to do, but more than likely, they are not going to want to deal with the bad publicity they may face using these artists songs against their will.