×

Can Rihanna and Axl Rose Order Trump to Stop Playing Their Music at Rallies?

Long before the political career of Donald Trump began, politicians were using music in their campaign rallies against the artists’ wishes: In 2015, Rolling Stone compiled a list of 35 of them, many dating from the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign of 2008. Yet the artists’ protestations rarely seem to have any effect, particularly against the current administration: The Rolling Stones have issued multiple requests for Trump to stop using their music during his rallies, and many other artists have complained.

Many, including people in the publishing industry, believe that the songs in question fall under the blanket licenses issued to venues by performing-rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI, and many campaigns have acted under that assumption as well (if the music is simply played at a rally, and not altered or used in promotional materials by the campaign).

Rihanna and Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose are the latest to complain about Trump’s use of their music in his rallies against their wishes, and Rose went so far as to accuse the campaign of “using loopholes in the various venues’ blanket performance licenses … without the songwriters’ consent.”

However, the artists — at least, artists of a certain stature — do have a recourse, argues Dina LaPolt, attorney for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who succeeded in having the artist’s music removed from Trump’s rallies, and obtained a letter from the campaign’s attorney guaranteeing it.

After the Trump campaign used Aerosmith’s 1993 hit “Livin’ on the Edge” at a rally in West Virginia in August, Tyler sent a cease-and-desist letter through LaPolt to the White House accusing the President of willful infringement in broadcasting the song, which was written by Tyler, Joe Perry and Mark Hudson. LaPolt cited the Lanham Act, which prohibits “any false designation or misleading description or representation of fact … likely to cause confusion … as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person.” Thus, she contends that playing an Aerosmith song in a public arena gives the false impression that Tyler is endorsing Trump’s presidency. The Lanham Act has taken on enhanced relevance in recent years because footage from major political rallies invariably is posted on the Internet, increasing the implied connection between the political figure and the songs.

The matter came up previously with another Aerosmith song, “Dream On,” which Trump used during his 2015 election campaign. Claiming that “Trump for President needs our client’s express written permission in order to use his music” and that the campaign “was violating Mr. Tyler’s copyright,” BMI pulled the public performance rights for the song.

While public performance rights for “Livin’ on the Edge” are administered by ASCAP, LaPolt says she was aware that the Trump campaign’s performing-rights license expired in 2016, and she directed ASCAP to exclude Tyler’s music from a renewed license; they did so. Thus, the Trump campaign was using the song without a license, and she was able to procure a letter from its attorney pledging not to use any of Tyler’s music at its rallies. To date, it has not done so since the August incident.

LaPolt notes that an artist needn’t wait for a campaign’s license to expire in order to take action, arguing that the Lanham Act should be strong enough.

“If you direct a PRO to withhold licenses for their authors, especially if the writer is big enough, they’ll do it,” LaPolt says.

Another, simpler option is for an artist simply to inform their performing-rights organization that they wish to exclude some or all of their works from use by specific political campaigns. Owing to gaps in the blanket license (and the fact that not all political rallies are held a licensed venues), around 10 years ago, performing-rights organizations ASCAP and BMI created a political-entities license that addresses such issues specifically and includes a provision to have certain songs excluded from the license if an author so wishes. A rep for BMI told Variety,  “BMI’s …  Political Entities License … covers music use at political campaign events wherever they occur and contains a provision that if a BMI songwriter or publisher objects to the use of a song, we have the ability to exclude that song from the license.”

The PROs would then inform the political campaign of the artist’s request to have the song removed from the license, and that the campaign would be risking infringement claims if it continued to play the song.

Two sources tell Variety that they are not aware of a situation where acting on such an infringement claim became necessary.

 

 

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein (C) arrives to New

    Weinstein Jury Appears Deadlocked on Most Serious Counts

    The jury in the Harvey Weinstein trial appears to be deadlocked on the two most serious charges against the producer, which carry the potential of life in prison. After lunch on Friday, the jurors sent a note to the judge asking what to do if they could not reach a verdict on two counts of [...]

  • Baby Yoda - The Child Animatronic

    Hasbro's Adorable Baby Yoda Animatronic Toy Is Already Sold Out on Disney's Online Store

    The Force remains strong for toys based on Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian.” Less than a day after becoming available for pre-order, Hasbro’s new $59.99 Baby Yoda animatronic toy is no longer available on Disney’s official online store: As of Friday morning, Shop Disney listed it as “sold [...]

  • BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday

    BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday Playlist Rebrand

    Spotify has launched a global rebrand of its popular New Music Friday playlist, which this week features BTS, The Weeknd, Noah Cyrus, Trippie Redd, Kenny Chesney, Rei Ami and others. The revamped playlist, which has 43 versions worldwide, has more than 3.5 million followers in the US and eight million globally. New elements include a [...]

  • Donna Rotunno Gloria Allred

    Donna Rotunno Complains to Judge About Gloria Allred Attacking Her in the Media

    Harvey Weinstein’s lead attorney Donna Rotunno asked the judge to silence Gloria Allred, the high-powered attorney who is representing three women who’ve testified in the New York rape trial. Before the jury entered the courtroom on Friday morning, the fourth day of deliberations, Rotunno made a complaint on the record to the judge regarding Allred’s [...]

  • Revelries Sign With Edgeout Label via

    Revelries Sign With Edgeout Label via Universal’s Catalog Division

    Louisiana band the Revelries has signed a development deal with Edgeout, a label that will release music via Universal’s catalog division UMe. The band is managed by Red Light. “Edgeout Records is committed to discovering the next generation of rock artists,” said label chief Tony Guanci, who signed an exclusive global deal to release bands [...]

  • MadeFor Productions

    Endemol Shine Sets Up German Scripted Label Ahead of Banijay Acquisition (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Black Mirror” and “Peaky Blinders” producer Endemol Shine Group has set up a new scripted label in Germany, Variety can reveal. Based in Berlin and led by joint CEOs Nanni Erben and Gunnar Juncken, MadeFor Film will focus on both high-end TV series and feature films for the domestic and international markets, as well as [...]

  • Deborah Dugan

    Recording Academy in Mediation with Ousted CEO Deborah Dugan

    The Recording Academy and its ousted president and CEO Deborah Dugan have officially entered mediation, just over a month after their dispute broke into the open, sources confirm to Variety. While a report in Billboard states that mediation began today, a source tells Variety that the two parties have been in communication for at least [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content