Musicians Feuding With Trump Over Music Use Have New Resource

Exploring the legal grounds artists have open to them

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones' quarrel with Donald Trump may have a new dimension.
Gorup de Besanez/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / July 11, 2020 7:00 am

Two things have been constant since Donald Trump first began his push for the presidency: Trump’s campaign would use a wide array of music at rallies, and many of the musicians whose songs were played would object. Neil Young has had issues with Trump’s use of his music since 2015; that’s continued as Trump moved from upstart candidate to incumbent seeking re-election. The Rolling Stones are another high-profile group who have sought to prevent Trump’s campaign from playing their music at events, and there are plenty more.

Does the argument made by countless high-profile musicians hold up? A new article by Marc Hogan at Pitchfork offers a detailed explanation of what legal grounds these artists’s objections have — and what might be changing going forward.

Of particular interest is the news that the Trump campaign has a “political entities license” from BMI, which covers their use of music in the same way that a bar or coffee shop would be able to obtain a license for the music played there. Political licenses function a little differently than most, as Hogan explains:

But the special licenses for political campaigns include a provision that allows certain songs to be excluded if the artists object to their use. The BMI spokesperson said that the organization received such an objection and gave the Trump campaign a heads-up that the Rolling Stones’ songs were no longer covered by its license.

That isn’t the only way an artist can get their music removed from campaign stages. Hogan spoke with attorney Dina LaPolt, who worked on behalf of Aerosmith to get Trump’s campaign to cease using their music at its events. LaPolt also noted that artists could contend that using their music constituted a false endorsement. Both Aerosmith and Rihanna have successfully made that argument.

Artists criticizing Trump for his campaign’s use of their music is a familiar sight. Hogan’s article does a memorable job of providing a greater legal context for how these arguments might play out.

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