Why Rihanna Can’t Stop Trump From Using Her Music

The star has said she doesn't want Trump playing her music at his "tragic rallies."

(Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Hours before President Trump took the stage at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Sunday night, Rihanna’s hit song “Please Don’t Stop the Music” blared through the 11,000-seat McKenzie Arena.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker wrote about the scene on Twitter, and when Rihanna saw the tweet, her response was unambiguous: She does not want Trump playing her song.

Rihanna, a Barbadian singer, cannot vote in the United States but does not hide her political leanings and has been a vocal critic of the president, who she called an “immoral pig” after he signed an executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim countries from entering the United States in Jan. 2017.

But can she actually stop Trump from playing her music? The Post writes that the answer is complicated. If a politician wants to use a song as background music at a rally, their campaign needs to get a public performance license from the copyright holder of the musical composition, not one from the recording artist. But radio and TV ads are different — the owner of the sound recording, typically the artist’s label, will need to license the song to the campaign.

The Post writes that in the U.S., the copyrights for most musical compositions belong to one of two performance rights organizations: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). In 2012, BMI created a separate license for political entities, and musicians can opt out if they don’t want their songs used at rallies. ASCAP has a similar provision in place.

But Forbes’s Melinda Newman wrote, “The problem is that both of these are untested as far as campaign usages since no artist or songwriter seems to have ever taken a case to trial citing a violation by a campaign—or at least as far as we could find.” Trump is known to use songs even if artists don’t want him too, and he famously likes to end his rallies with the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” even though it’s against the band’s wishes.

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