Can Musicians Stop Politicians from Playing Their Songs at Events? - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Can Musicians Stop Politicians from Playing Their Songs at Events?

Can Musicians Stop Politicians from Playing Their Songs at Events?

Adele, Guns N’ Roses, Elton John, Queen, R.E.M., Rihanna, The Rolling Stones, Twisted Sister, Steven Tyler, Pharrell Williams, Neil Young, and many other musicians share one thing in common: they do not want President Donald Trump using their music at his events.1 This issue, however, is not unique to President Trump. ABBA once asked the late Senator John McCain not to use the band’s music during his 2008 presidential campaign, and the Dropkick Murphys asked then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to stop taking the stage to their song “Shipping up to Boston.”2

Pharrell Williams and Steven Tyler sent cease-and-desist letters to President Trump’s team, with Steven Tyler’s attorneys objecting to the Trump campaign’s use of “Livin on the Edge” without their client’s permission, claiming that it implies Tyler’s support of President Trump, and that its use is likely to cause confusion as to whether Tyler supports him, which they claim is prohibited  by the Lanham Act.3 Unfortunately for recording artists, their objections may not be sufficient to stop political figures’ use of their music. Political campaigns can license their use of music through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), two performance rights organizations that, combined, hold the rights to 23.5 million songs—in spite of artists’ wishes to the contrary.4

Additionally, venues at which rallies are held often hold blanket licenses from ASCAP or BMI, and through those licenses, politicians can play music at their events despite the creators’ objections to its use.5 Fortunately for artists, new avenues are developing to prevent political figures from using their work. Under BMI’s Political Entities License, for example, a clause allows artists to remove certain songs from licenses if an artist objects to political campaigns’ use of their work.6 ASCAP reportedly has a similar clause allowing artists to exclude their work from use by certain political campaigns.7 Still, because a court has not yet weighed in on these issues, it is unclear exactly how the law would be applied and what the result would be.8

  1. Devon Ivie & Dee Lockett, A Brief History of Musicians Saying ‘Hell No’ to Donald Trump’s Using Their Songs, Vulture (Nov. 7, 2018),[]

  2. Luke O’Neil, Can’t Always Get What You Want: Why Artists Struggle to Stop Politicians Using their Songs, The Guardian (Oct. 30, 2018),[]

  3. Id.

  4. Andrew Flanagan, After Pittsburgh, Pharrell Demands Trump Never Play ‘Happy’ Again, NPR (Oct. 30, 2018),[]

  5. O’Neil, supra note 2.

  6. Melinda Newman, Updated: Queen Is The Champion Over Donald Trump And The RNC (Sort Of), Forbes (July 26, 2016),[]

  7. Debra Cassens Weiss, Can Recording Artists Stop Trump from Playing their Music at Rallies? Legal Theories are Untested, ABA J. (Nov. 6, 2018),[]

  8. Id.; Newman, supra note 6.

Ben Kremnitzer

Ben Kremnitzer is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. He is also a member of the Fordham University School of Law Dispute Resolution Society. He holds a B.A. in French Literature from Columbia University.