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.
Facts: New York Times