The Piano Guys Face Legal Action After Playing One Direction at Trump’s Inauguration…

The Piano Guys Face Legal Action After Playing One Direction at Trump's Inauguration
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The Piano Guys Face Legal Action After Playing One Direction at Trump's Inauguration
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Zen Skillicorn (CC by 2.0)

The Piano Guys not only decided to play Trump’s Inauguration, they also featured a One Direction song.  Now, the person who wrote that song is vowing legal revenge.

The Piano Guys just cashed a fat paycheck to play Donald Trump’s Inauguration.  According to estimates, the group received more than half-a-million dollars for just two performances.

Now, the Piano Guys may be paying some of that back to One Direction.

The members of 1D were apparently shocked to find the Piano Guys playing their song, ‘What Makes You Beautiful’.  And so were their fans: right after the Piano Guys covered the song, One Direction fans stirred into action online.  Many were confused, thinking One Direction had granted permission in support of Trump (they didn’t).

Maybe that’s because the Piano Guys made ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ their full-blown opener.

‘What Makes You Beautiful’  is easily one of the One Direction’s biggest tracks.  The song is also unmistakably One Direction.  All of which means that the Piano Guys knowingly associated One Direction with an extremely controversial event.  And they did it without seeking permission, or even offering a notification to anyone in One Direction.  All of which sounds like a huge sign of disrespect from the Piano Guys, a group trying to ‘heal’ a divided nation.

The Piano Guys: Attacking Hillary?

Separately, the group also covered ‘Fight Song,’ written by Rachel Platten.  That was Hillary Clinton’s campaign anthem, sparking a huge protest from Platten.  Indeed, many fans now view this as a direct political attack by the Piano Guys.  Somehow, in their mission to heal a wounded nation, the Piano Guys picked the worst songs imaginable.

Why We Agreed to Play at Donald Trump’s Inauguration

Adding insult to injury, those covers are generating pennies for One Direction and Platten (literally).  The Piano Guys, by contrast, raked in an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars — each — for playing the Trump gig.

It’s on…

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Now, the songwriter behind the smash hit is vowing revenge, starting with legal action.  Savan Kotecha, who penned the track as a loving homage to his wife, confirmed that the Piano Guys definitely didn’t seek permission.  “They were absolutely NOT given permission to use WMYB at the inaugural ball,” Kotecha tweeted after the performance.

“I will be looking into taking action.”

But what action, exactly?

US Copyright law typically allows groups like the Piano Guys to cover songs.  That includes popular works like ‘What Makes You Beautiful,’ which fall under a ‘compulsory license’ that doesn’t require the permission of the artist.  Not the most respectful thing to do, but protected under law.

That’s the default law in the music industry, though some artists have specifically threatened legal action for other forms of infringement.  That includes ‘likeness,’ which refers to the misappropriation of a band’s image without permission.  In the case of the Trump Inauguration, One Direction is now viewed as supporting the incoming President — whether they like it or not.

The Piano Guys, by knowingly using the song without notifying the group in advance, may be causing damage by implying an endorsement that doesn’t exist.

There are other reasons why the Piano Guys might be concerned.  There are now exceptions to compulsory licenses, specifically for political engagements.  A few months ago, publishing executive Monica Corton wrote about a little-known exclusion for political uses.   That’s right: songwriters can actually prohibit their music from political rallies.

Want to Prevent Donald Trump from Playing Your Music at Rallies?

BMI, one of the largest performance rights groups in the US, recently created an exclusion clause to prevent certain politicians from using popular music.  A string of artist complaints prompted the provision, including a series of battles between Trump and high-profile artists.

We’ve reached out to Savan to further discuss the matter.  Stay tuned.


21 Responses

  1. News of the World

    why’s everyone going potty over politics.. if you didn’t want him in then why did you all vote for him..

    the mass media tried it’s darn hardest to dismiss him and smear him yet the voting public of America voted and said yes.. let’s give him a shot..

    I think the blue collar workers and the aspirational could see that the establishment
    weren’t going to change anything and the rich would continue to get richer and the working glass, middle class and the broke class would all be left behind..

    No wages growth for the majority of working Americans, no chance to climb the
    ladder in life… so why not give him a try.. what do they have to lose…

    • Anonymous

      3M more people voted for the other person…so….we didn’t.

      • Bla bla

        Don’t crucify the piano men. They played a beautiful rendition of your song.

        • Dawna

          UNBELIEVABLE! EVERYTHING has to be politicized, even MUSIC? It is going to continue until there is nothing good anymore because people will be afraid to perform, do good deeds, etc. for fear of this ridiculous irrational hate that is being displayed in our streets over a presidential victory.

          Can you just imagine where this country would be if this had happened with every change of president? Let me give you a clue: THERE WOULD BE NO AMERICA!

          The hate mongers are doing their best to destroy this country and half the country is helping them! When there is no more America, enjoy what you get!

    • Tracy

      Some people aren’t happy if there’s nothing to whine about. Both One Direction & Rachel Platten need to grow up, move out of the kindergarten class and get a life

  2. News of the World

    Can these songwriters stop being sooks… at least their works are being used..

    What’s worse..

    Being like 99.9% of songwriters and artists that never get their works heard and live forever in obscurity..

    Besides, anyone can do covers.. it’s always been the case since Elvis Presley,
    Frank Sinatra, Glen Miller and even the Beatles.

  3. Good grief

    A) this isn’t a “rally”.
    B) does anyone, in their right mind, equate a group obviously covering a popular song, to the original group and/or writer endorsing whomever is hosting a party?

    I’m not a fan of Trump, but this would be laughed out of court. Seriously. It’s not damaging anyone’s image… virtually 100% of anyone hearing about this story will forget about it in less than 72 hours.

    What if a Rat Pack tribute group played? By the same argument, they should have gone to the families of Frank/Dean/Sammy for permission?

  4. Andrew

    The funniest part is they didn’t even bother to really play. It was a nice and obvious playback (3 Doors Down and that guy with “God Bless US” did it, too). But, hey, if they got paid so “bigly”, than good for them. The crowd seemed really easy to be taken for a ride. After all, look at who they elected… One more thing: no black people in the audience…. Anyway: “Sad!” … and also… “Fake!”

  5. Esquire

    1. Not One Direction: The song is owned by three co-writers, none of them part of One Direction; One Direction neither created nor owns this work. One Direction uses the song as do others who perform and record it, paying when they do. One Direction has some say over use of their sound recording of it, but that’s not at issue here.

    2. WMYB ASCAP: The song is licensed by ASCAP as part of its blanket license, specifically listed in its ACE on-line repertory. An ASCAP blanket public performance license covers it.

    3. Fight Song ASCAP: Fight Song by Rachel Platten has an ASCAP co-writer. As with WMYB, an ASCAP public performance license covers it.

    4. All Voluntary: Nothing “compulsory” about any of this, nor even statutory (the so-called compulsory is for mechanical reproductions, not at issue here). Don’t want this to happen to you? Don’t assign your rights to a blanket licensing organization like ASCAP — nothing forces you to do so — but neither will you receive the money that comes from efficient blanket licensing.

    • Esquire

      Also, let’s add that The Piano Guys recorded both Fight Song and WMYB for albums. It’s increasingly difficult to find even a thin reed of a credible argument that says they shouldn’t have played either of these songs, songs off albums they recorded, let alone a legal claim of any substance.

      • Paul Resnikoff

        This is why lawyers get such a bad reputation. It’s all attack dog mentality based on strict reading of the law, not ethical considerations. Even when there’s harm to others: if it can’t be argued in front of a judge, we’re all good!

        Take this situation. Who cares whether One Direction ‘owns’ this in publishing rights (actually it’s a songwriter leading the charge). In the mind of the world, this is One Direction’s song. And The Piano Guys playing ‘their’ song sounds like 1D authorized it. That’s the way the public will interpret this, likely knowing very little about music law (and why should they?)

        So yeah: the legal recourse is difficult if not impossible. It doesn’t mean this is the right thing for the Piano Guys to do from an ethical standpoint. In fact, I’d argue they knowingly abused the law to their advantage. They dragged 1D into this, whether they liked it or not.

        Don’t agree with that? Try ‘Fight Song’. It was Hillary’s anthem. In other words, The Piano Guys stuffed it in her face. Hey, not taking sides. But that’s not the kumbaya reasoning the Piano Guys offered. It’s a political jab.

        Look: The Piano Guys got paid — a ton of money — and played the Inauguration while playing songs clearly associated with other artists. That’s cool. But just cash the check on the gig, and skip the BS ‘mending the hearts of a nation’ speech.

        • Fed Up

          I would be interested to see your sources granting you such intimate knowledge of the Piano Guys intentions for both of these songs (although I agree they wouldn’t have been my first choices if I were them). Also, the Piano Guys recorded their cover of Amazing Grace / Fight Song mash up before Hillary defiled it as her “theme song.” So if anybody politicized the song, it was Hillary (although I know the artist did support that use). Good grief, I can’t believe how much of a a big deal this has been blown up into; mostly by hacks with a thinly-veiled agenda, like you.

        • Amie

          I disagree that the Piano Guys dragged 1D into the inauguration and Trump. They chose popular songs to play at a performance. Did they come out and support either candidate during the election? No. The group is apolitical.

          Savan, co-writer of the song, is making a mountain out of a molehill and is probably just looking for easy money, but it will probably backfire. He should be grateful that someone is playing this song, again. How it went platinum is unimaginable.

          People are taking this too far and it is going to cause greater rifts and prevent logical thinking from taking place.

          Music is for everyone to enjoy, regardless of who you are or one’s political association.

    • danwriter

      Thank you. The clickbailt hedlines here are getting out of hand.

  6. Rick Shaw

    Take out the politics part.

    This is an issue of rights. Public performance requires permission or the possibility of legal action could be enacted. That’s just fact.

    Trump should be happy that all the artists who he used their music to add to his campaigning (and even inauguration) without permission don’t sue. They should, especially The Rolling Stones as he did it many times even after they told him to stop.

  7. Esquire

    Let’s review: 1. Song’s use was fully licensed by ASCAP public performance blanket license (venue, event, broadcasters) and these are both ASCAP songs; 2. The Piano Guys recorded both songs previously and both songs have been covered by numerous artists, Glee covering WMYB previously to great renown, The Piano Guys version was truly viral (and occurred five years ago).

    Still, it is the DMN editorial position that legal action is imminent, the story graphic a picture of courthouse steps. You continue to insist it is a matter of “ethics” in spite of blanket licensing, previously covered, etc. And, no, there is “compulsory” license involved nor even a statute that imposes licenses on performances.

    DMN claims the songwriter is “vowing legal revenge” although there is no one songwriter (there are three), the use was licensed and the songwriter “vowing legal revenge” told Billboard “I’m sure there is nothing I can do about the use of the song.”

    Finally, the use was at a celebratory ball, not a political campaign event (campaign is over).

  8. asdf

    This tempest in a teacup seems to indicated that copyright and freedom of expression are very confusing, if totally meaningless, concepts to legal and moral relativist liberals.

  9. Peter Bogdanoff

    The issue with “being offensive” was settled long ago. The US Supreme Court (the guys who said that abortion on demand and same-sex marriage was OK) in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977) allowed a Nazi group to march through Skokie, IL a “predominantly Jewish community, [where] one in six residents was a Holocaust survivor or was directly related to one.” That being said, Paul, you ask about “moral” — was it an improper treatment of the author(s)? and “ethical” — was it wrong conduct (did they violate the ‘musician’s code’)? Well, without any actual legal recourse, the author(s) have only the court of public opinion–and DMN to turn to. But wait, maybe this will get The Piano Guys, and all those other unenlightened musicians that did play at Trump’s various events, . THAT would be a turn of affairs.

    • Peter Bogdanoff

      The last line should have been “But wait, maybe this will get The Piano Guys, and all those other unenlightened musicians that did play at Trump’s various events, BLACKLISTED. That would be a turn of affairs.

  10. The Living Legend

    So the individual that wrote this article is obviously a waste of oxygen on this planet, it is disgusting that someone thinks they can just go and write articles to slander people, making laughable accusations and trying to make a music performance about politics.

    To the person who wrote this, I hope you find some time in your very very important life of trying to bully and discredit people who are more successful then you just because its the only way you have to pleasure yourself at night, you disgusting creature that doesn’t even deserve the title lf human being.