Neil Young Slams Trump Again Over 'Rockin' in the Free World' Usage: 'It Goes Against My Wishes'

Alice Chiche / AFP
Neil Young performs on stage in Quebec City during 2018 Festival d'ete de Quebec on July 6, 2018.

Unfortunately for Young, music licensing laws are kind of on the President's side.

Neil Young knows he can't legally stop President Trump from playing his song "Rockin' in the Free World" at rallies, but he reiterated on Tuesday (Nov. 6) that he really wishes the president would cut it out. "DT does not have my permission to use the song 'Rockin' in the Free World' at his appearances," Young wrote on Election Day on his Archives website. "Legally, he has the right to, however, it goes against my wishes."

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's midterm election, RihannaPharrell and Guns N' Roses all added their names to the growing list of musicians who made it clear that they wanted the President to cease and desist from using their songs at his rallies in support of Republican candidates. Young, a Canadian citizen who cannot vote in U.S. elections, urged others to vote on Tuesday, noting that he made it "perfectly clear" after Trump played "Rockin'" at at event announcing his candidacy in June 2015 that he did not want the New York real estate baron using his music during events. 

"I asked him then, in a widely shared, public letter to cease and desist," Young wrote. "However, he chose not to listen to my request, just as he chooses not to listen to the many American voices who ask him to stop his constant lies, to stop his petty, nasty name calling and bullying, to stop pushing his dangerous, vilifying and hateful rhetoric. This man does not represent the character of the people in the USA that I have come to know and love."

Rihanna reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump's White House counsel recently after the president played her song "Don't Stop the Music" at a rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "As you are or should be aware, Ms. Fenty has not provided her consent to Mr. Trump to use her music," the letter reportedly read. "Such use is therefore improper." When the singer caught wind of Trump's use off her song after a Washington Post reporter said that the song was playing and "everyone's loving it," she tweeted, "not for much longer...me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies."

GNR's Axl Rose tweeted that Trump was using "loopholes in various venues' blanket performance licenses which were not intended for such craven political purposes, without the songwriters' consent." A recent New York Times story broke down the complicated licensing and copyright law tangle that, in the past, has given political campaigns wide berth to play any song they choose at rallies. "Playing music at a public event requires a license, which generally comes from a few big music-rights agencies like BMI and ASCAP," the Times reported. "Usually, the arenas where politicians appear already possess a blanket license that allows the venue to play any song in the agencies’ vast catalogs."

The agencies, however, typically advise campaigns to buy their own blanket licenses that allow them to play music wherever they are, though it was unclear if the Trump campaign had done so. "In recent years, BMI and ASCAP have written exemptions into these contracts giving musicians the right to stop a politician from using their songs," according to the Times, citing actions taken on behalf of Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler to have his band's music stripped off of Trump's BMI and ASCAP licenses using the argument that playing them created the false impression that Tyler was a Trump supporter; Rihanna's lawyer has reportedly made a similar argument.

The Times also noted that BMI's college and university blanket licenses contain exclusions for events that are "promoted or sponsored by a third party," with a BMI spokesperson saying that “there is risk involved if a campaign attempts to rely on a venue license to cover its music use for events...many venues where campaign events are held do not have licenses, and venue licenses are not intended to cover campaign events in the first place.”

A spokesperson for the White House could not be reached for comment at press time.


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