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USA: campaign rallies and music: do artists have the right to demand politicians stop using their songs?

During a campaign rally last month in West Virginia, Donald Trump’s team played a classic Aerosmith song, “Living on the Edge,” before he took to the stage.


The lead singer of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, got wind of the usage and demanded that Trump and his campaign stop playing any of the band’s music at their rallies or public events.  Tyler tweeted, “This is not about Dems vs. Repub. I do not let anyone use my songs without permission.  My music is for causes, not political campaigns or rallies.  Protecting songwriters is what I’ve been fighting for even before this current administration took office.”

Tyler’s stance left people on social media questioning whether it was really possible for an artist to control when their music is played, or whether an artist could dictate that their music can only be played on certain mediums or at certain events.

Performance rights can allow candidates to play songs even if the artist doesn’t like it


Candidates can use songs during campaign events, even if the songwriter doesn’t like it, by purchasing Performance Rights.  Most large venues where campaign rallies are held already have “public performance licenses” with organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC that apply to most songs in a musical group’s catalog.  However, campaigns usually go one step further by purchasing their own license in the event that the venue does not cover the music that they intend to use.  This allows the candidate to utilize a playlist of their choosing without fearing a copyright infringement claim from the artist or composer.


But… Performance licenses can be revoked & artists can still fight against use of their music


Even if a candidate obtains the proper permission and license to use a song, the artist may still be able to take legal action to demand that the candidate stop using a particular song or catalog, or they may revoke the candidate’s performance license entirely.

For example, musical artists may still be able to sue candidates under state “right of publicity laws” that are designed to protect a prominent person’s image.  Artists may also find relief under the Lanham Act, which seeks to stop unauthorized use of a trademarked brand or the appearance of a “false endorsement” of a candidate if the use of the song suggests that the artist is a political supporter.


Tyler’s attorney turned to the Lanham Act in the band’s latest battle against the president.  Aerosmith already revoked the Trump Campaign’s performance rights in 2015 after they used the song, “Dream On” at a rally.  His lawyer sent a new cease and desist letter that read in part, “Mr. Trump is creating the false impression that our client has given his consent for the use of his music, and even that he endorses the presidency of Mr. Trump… We demanded Mr. Tyler’s public performance societies terminate their licenses with you in 2015 in connection with Dream On and any other musical compositions written or co-written by Mr. Tyler. As such, we are unaware of any remaining public performance license still in existence which grants Mr. Trump the right to use his music in connection with the rallies or any other purpose.”


As with most things in intellectual property law, policing a musical copyright is up to the artist


Answering the question set at the beginning of the article – yes, it’s possible for an artist to demand that a political candidate stop using their music at rallies or campaign-related events. But, like most things in intellectual property law, policing and protecting a copyright is the responsibility of the musician.

Source: Law Office of Jason H. Rosenblum, PLLC 

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