No, The Trump Campaign Is Not “Stealing” Neil Young’s Songs

Despite what you may have read, Neil Young is being a jerk.  This month, the singer sued the Trump campaign over its use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and  “Devil’s Sidewalk,” both of which were played at a Trump  rally in  June. In his suit, the musician accused the campaign of copyright infringement for playing the tracks without a license, and asked for the campaign to be ordered to stop using them, as well as for statutory damages.

It’s a dishonest suit. The real reason for it is also in the complaint, in which he says Young “cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”

Of course, it is the party Young’s sympathies presumably  lie with that have been inflicting hate and ignorance on the U.S., but never mind.

Young was on sounder legal and ethical ground in 2018, when he wrote that he had  no legal recourse to stop Trump from using his music, writing on his website, “Legally, he has the right to, however it goes against my wishes.”

Well too damn bad, Neil. You sold your right to have your wishes obeyed in such matters. You’re just virtue-signaling, and I hope the Trump Campaign counter-sues.

Campaigns purchase the same right to play songs that radio stations, shopping malls  or concert halls do by paying for blanket licensing deals with licensing companies like ASCAP and BMI. They act as agents of artists to sell the public performance rights for millions of songs on their behalf, including Neil Young, in exchange for a fee. Campaigns purchase special licenses , allowing them to use songs at venues around the country.  The licensing organizations’ consent decrees with the Justice Department preserve a fair marketplace by requiring them to offer their catalogs of songs to any “similarly situated” party that wants to use the music.

As we have seen in so many other contexts, the Trump Haters think the fact that they really, really don’t like who the American people elected President suspends ethics and laws that have applied to everyone else.  Artist like Young are now arguing that they should be able to cherry-pick which license-purchasers can and cannot use their songs, and Young’s legal team is hoping for one of the unethical Trump-hating judges to side with them. The theory is that an artist can pull a license “if a particular use could damage the economic value of a song’s copyright.” Good luck proving that, because speculation isn’t enough.

Contrary to the dubious theory Young will be trying out, neither I nor most rational people interpret a campaign’s use of a pop song as the equivalent of an endorsement of the campaign by the artist who recorded the song, wrote the lyrics, or composed the melody. Allowing artists to discriminate against license-seekers based on political views would undermine the whole purpose of the having such entities as ASCAP.  Why stop with campaigns? Why not radio stations owned by individuals who Neil Young disagrees with on one or many issues? You can trace out this slippery slope with ease, and so, I suspect, will the courts.

I never did think much of Neil Young.

Too nasal.


Facts: New York Times


12 thoughts on “No, The Trump Campaign Is Not “Stealing” Neil Young’s Songs

  1. I don’t have the numbers, but this type of conflict seems to have disproportionately to Republicans. I can’t think of a single recent Presidential campaign in which the Republican candidate hasn’t been asked by a musician or band to stop playing one of their songs.

    • @#%$!. I know why I wrote that! I always hated America because I thought the whole group sounded like Neil Young. Thanks. Only a few people have had time to read that and think I’m an idiot.

      • Worst, most pathetic rock lyric ever: “Helpless, Helpless, Helpless, Helpless.” Thank God it’s in North Ontario, Canada, eh?

  2. I should be known that Neil Young is re-releasing an album of legacy songs this week. This is just a way to gin up interest in songs that have little relevance to today’s political environment. Trump is trying to Bring The Boys back home which is why the military industrial complex and their lackey generals tweet their anti-Trump feelings.

  3. I love the song and the music of Neil Young, nasal voice and all. My question is “what is the motivation of the Trump campaign in using it?” Do they simply like the chorus and are clueless about the meaning of the song? Are they intentionally taking a shot at the Bush family? (For anyone unaware, the song was partially a swipe at the first Bush administration, with references to “a thousand points of light” and a “kinder, gentler” machine gun hand.) There is a remarkable contradiction between what was being said in the lyrics and the feeling that one gets from just listening to the chorus and the music. Damn, that song rocks!

    • Yeah, that drives me crazy. It’s like the GOP using “Born in the USA.” The sad fact is, most people born after 1960 don’t pay attention to lyrics, including the people who pick out music for rallies. With the exception of a few singers who focus on lyrics, like Dylan, Simon and Billy Joel, I doubt most songs’ lyrics register on even a song’s biggest fans.

      I recently had a discussion with someone about 40 who said “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was her favorite Beatles song. Not a bad choice! So, being an asshole, I had to ask, “You know what the song is about, right?” She had no clue.

      • I guess I was wrong for decades about the meaning of that song. I thought it had to do with some problem between George and Patty… perhaps suspicion of an infidelity If the Wikipedia article is correct, the song means something much different.

      • But I would ask does anyone know what any particular song is really about? I was flipping through a book that analyzed Bob Dylan’s lyrics. The chapter was on the lyrics in the album John Wesley Harding and the author was quoting from some popular writer who said that though he loved the musical tunes in many of the songs, and aspects in the lyrics, many of them did not really seem to work. But one of them really caught his attention: All Along The Watchtower. At that time I had never heard that song nor that album so I began to look into it. Thanks to you, YouTube!

        So, what in the heck is All Along The Watchtower ‘really’ about? Does anyone know? Does the author of the song know? In a Platonic Dialogue Socrates is said to have gone to the artists and poets of his day, who wrote such sublime poetry, and to see if they really had intelligible, communicable wisdom. But he was disappointed. They did not really understand what they were saying, either.

        The song just alludes to images and feelings and one essentially projects onto it a sense of meaning.

        I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
        While my guitar gently weeps
        With every mistake we must surely be learning
        Still my guitar gently weeps

        I was curious about While My Guitar Gently Weeps and looked it up since I had no idea what it *really meant*. What is curious is that he is said to have opened up the Chinese *Book of Changes* (I-Ching) and come across the line ‘gently weeps’ and then closed the book and set to work on his song.

        But, because I was fascinated by the I-Ching at a certain point and know it pretty well, I ask: What hexagram did he open to? No one seems to know. But I thought it might have been Hexagram 13 “Fellowship With Men” which deals with the problem of universal fellowship and concord. The fifth line:

        Men bound in fellowship first weep and lament,
        But afterward they laugh.
        After great struggles they succeed in meeting.

        Two people are outwardly separated, but in their hearts they are united. They are kept apart by their positions in life. Many difficulties and obstructions arise between them and cause them grief. But, remaining true to each other, the allow nothing to separate them, and although it costs them a severe struggle to overcome the obstacles, they will succeed. When they come together their sadness will change to joy. Confucius says of this:

        Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
        Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
        Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
        There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
        But when two people are at one in the inmost hearts,
        They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
        And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
        Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.

        In other news, now it has become clear to me: You are all hippies! You know the lyrics of the Sixties by heart! You probably drink wheatgrass and light incense sticks! Now, I understand you better. This changes everything . . .

        In any case, for what it’s worth or not worth as the case may be, one of my favorite songs on that aforementioned album is this one:

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