The Canadian-American folk rock legend filed the lawsuit yesterday in a New York federal court, as the suit states that Young refuses to let his music serve as a “‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”
The copyright infringement lawsuit sites the Trump campaign’s use of Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” at rallies and political events. “This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing,” the lawsuit reads. “However, Plaintiff [Neil Young dba Silver Fiddle Music] in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”
The lawsuit sites multiple times that the Trump campaign used the music of Young during his political events without any license of permission from Young, and states that the Trump campaign continued the unauthorized use of Young’s music even knowing they did not have permission. Young is asking that the Trump campaign “be enjoined primarily and permanently from publicly performing the Songs—or any musical compositions owned by Plaintiff—and from causing or permitting the Songs to be publicly performed at public events conducted, controlled, managed, supervised, or arranged for by the Campaign and/or aiding or abetting the public performance of the Songs in any such place.”
Young has previously taken to Twitter to publicly voice his disapproval of the Trump campaign using his music after Trump played “Rockin’ in the Free World” at a recent campaign event at Mount Rushmore.
Young is not the first high profile artist to publicly denounce the use of their music in the Trump campaign; The Rolling Stones, Rihanna, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Panic! at the Disco singer Brendon Urie, the estate of Tom Petty, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses, Queen, Ozzy Osbourne, Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince’s estate, Adele and Pharrell have all come out at one point or another to object the president’s unauthorized use of their music.
Although plenty of artists have outwardly condemned the Trump campaign’s use of their music, music copyright laws make it very difficult for artists to directly control who is allowed to use their music. Bars, restaurants and even political campaigns can protect themselves for the most part from copyright complaints by acquiring licenses of large libraries of music through the performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI. However, the special licenses for political campaigns include a provision that allows certain songs to be excluded if the artists object to their use.
Despite the provision, any real lawsuit against the Trump campaign would be bogged down by complicated legalese regarding exactly how the music was used, and would almost definitely last longer than when the election is set to occur on November 3. The Rolling Stones, along with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Rihanna have all successfully stopped the Trump campaign from using some of their select songs by arguing that playing their music is providing a false impression of an endorsement for the president.
The odds of any major lawsuit arising due to Trump playing artists’ music is unlikely. Nonetheless, it is empowering to see artists stand up for what they believe is right and not sit idly by while their music is used for something they don’t believe in. Young has been making music for six decades, a nearly impossible feat for any artist to achieve, and his artistic integrity has yet to be compromised. If Trump is looking for inspiration through the music he wants to play, perhaps he should consider reaching out to the minds behind the music and gauge their thoughts.