Neil Young is suing Donald Trump for copyright infringement - here’s why

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 3:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 3:44 pm
Neil Young is suing the Trump campaign over the use of two of his songs (Photo: ALICE CHICHE/AFP via Getty Images)

Neil Young is suing Donald Trump’s campaign for the alleged illegal usage of his music at a recent rally.

The lawsuit against the president is in regards to copyright infringement and is seeking damages of up to $150,000 (£114,000) per infringement.

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Why is Neil Young suing Donald Trump’s campaign?

The musician claims that his songs Rockin’ in the Free World and Devil’s Sidewalk were played without a licence at a rally in Tulsa.

Both of these songs have been used previously by the campaign.

The copyright infringement complaint filed in New York Federal court read: “This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing.

“However, Plaintiff [Young] in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”

Young posted about the details of the lawsuit on his official site, which explains that “the campaign does not now have, and did not at the time of the Tulsa rally, have a license or Plaintiff’s permission to play the two songs at any public political event”.

The official documents also state that Young has “continuously and publicly objected” to the campaign using his songs.

Young’s first objection can be traced back to 2015, when the campaign first played Rockin’ in the Free World at his June 2015 announcement that he was running for president.

The documents explain that Young is seeking damages of up to $150,000 (£114,000) per infringement.

The Trump campaign has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

Open letter urges politicians to get permission to use a song

The legal action from Young follows the publication of an open letter pleading politicians to get permission to use songs for campaigns, events or advertising.

It was signed by high profile musicians, including Lorde, Sia, Mick Jagger and more.

The letter was produced in partnership with the Artist Rights Alliance, and urges political parties to “establish clear policies requiring campaigns to seek consent” from an artist.

It reads: “This is the only way to effectively protect your candidates from legal risk, unnecessary public controversy, and the moral quagmire that comes from falsely claiming or implying an artist’s support or distorting an artists’ expression in such a high stakes public way.”

The letter also warned that improper use can “inevitably draw even the most reluctant or apolitical artists off the sidelines, compelling them to explain the ways they disagree with candidates wrongfully using their music”.

The letter requests a plan for how to deal with the issue in the future by 10 August.

Have other musicians complained about Trump's use of their songs?

This isn't the first time that the Trump campaign has angered a musician over the use of their songs.

In July, The Rolling Stones threatened Trump that he could face legal action if their music continued to be used at his campaign rallies.

The family of Tom Petty have also issued a cease and desist letter to the Trump Campaign over the use of Petty’s song I Won’t Back Down at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In a statement, Petty’s family said: “Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind.

“Tom Petty would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate. He liked to bring people together.”

On 24 June, Brendon Urie, frontman of Panic! At The Disco, tweeted: “Dear Trump Campaign. F**k you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song. No Thanks, Brendon Urie, Panic! At The Disco & company.”

Urie’s tweet came after Trump walked onto the stage at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, to the song High Hopes by Panic! At The Disco.

Other musicians and groups to publicly oppose Trump using their music for his campaign include:

  • Adele
  • Linkin Park
  • Nickelback
  • Pharrell Williams
  • Queen
  • Aerosmith
  • The Beatles
  • Elton John
  • Guns N’ Roses