Neil Young Sues Donald Trump for Massive Copyright Infringement

Neil Young Sues Trump
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Neil Young Sues Trump
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Photo Credit: Gorupdebesanez / CC by 3.0

Neil Young has followed through and sued Trump for using his music at his rallies. But does Young have a case?

Young filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his re-election campaign. The lawsuit is over the unauthorized use of two of Young’s songs at his latest campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing,” the lawsuit begins. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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

Neil Young also posted a copy of the lawsuit filing on his website – Neil Young Archives. The suit alleges copyright infringement for Trump’s campaign playing “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” during the rally.

Young’s lawsuit says that Trump’s campaign “does not now have, and did not at the time of the Tulsa rally, have a license or [Young’s] permission to play the two songs at any public political event. [Young] has continuously and publicly objected to the use by the campaign of the songs,” the lawsuit reads.

Neil Young has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump since before he assumed office. He’s one of several artists who have sent cease-and-desist letters to the Trump campaign for playing his music. He threatened to sue Trump as far back as 2015 for the campaign’s use of “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Young previously decided against a lawsuit because of blanket licensing agreements that PROs offer venues for the songs they administer. The Rolling Stones recently enlisted the legal teams of PROs like ASCAP and BMI to fight Trump, though it’s unclear if the President is breaking any laws. BMI went so far as to say that if any Rolling Stones song it administers is featured at a future event – Trump will face a lawsuit from the Rolling Stones.

Apparently, Trump had been repeatedly notified of the alleged infringements involving Young’s music.

“Trump’s campaign has willfully ignored [Young’s] telling it not to play the songs and willfully proceeded to play the songs despite its lack of a license and despite its knowledge that a license is required to do so,” the lawsuit continues.

ASCAP and BMI blanket licensing requires campaigns to file for licensing agreements for their music – and pay for its use. Both PROs have political exclusion clauses, where artists can opt their songs out appearing at political events. Young’s music is licensed via ASCAP.

Young is seeking statutory damages of $15,000 for each noted infringement. Those damages could quickly balloon into the millions, as the Trump campaign has been notably flagrant in ignoring artists’ objections. The lawsuit also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction to bar the Trump campaign from using Young’s recordings at public events.

12 Responses

  1. Irma Victorza

    Get him, Neil! I don’t care who you are – Trump, Obama, etc. – illegal, unauthorized use of creative works is out of control and needs to be stopped.

  2. Atticus Finch

    Yawn. Same old argument, same old leftist hippie.

    • Angelito

      No comment about creator rights. You had to go political. Couldn’t keep it non-partisan. Pathetic.

  3. Pilot Light

    Can’t stand how everything gets turned into political rants.

    NY thinks he’s a gift to the record business

    • Burt

      That’s actually not true. I’ve met Neil a number of times and he is pretty crotchety, but not a snob like you’re saying.

    • Randy M.

      I agree with you on the political rant thing. Some people are passionate about their politics. Others (especially on this site) tend to just want to stir things up by posting stupid thoughts. The disagreement between artists and politicians has been going for a long time, and it isn’t just left against right, but also right against left (Sam Moore vs Obama, and Cyndi Lauper vs the DNC). That said, it seems to greatly fall into a category of GOP candidates getting sued more. It is documented mostly because of differences in ideology. Looking at rights management records, it appears that Democratic candidates tended to obtain proper rights prior to using music as opposed to GOP who wanted to charge ahead without permission.

  4. Johnny

    Artists have no rights. Everything should be free. Musicians don’t deserve to get paid for their work. Our friends in the ‘if you don’t give us your work for free, we’ll just go steal it’ gang have won. No turning back …

    • Malcolm Redston

      The genie hasn’t left the bottle as we see by litigation that eventually gets those who infringe to pay or stop.

  5. David Simmons

    Good for you Neil.The Trump administration think they can do whatever they like,ignoring any copyright or the composer’s rights.
    They are only using your music to try to create more voters for a party and President that you totally dissaprove of.
    Artist’s Rights Matter.

  6. Ivan Pedersen, Denmark.

    The law of copyright – I guess – is still valid in the USA? For the president as well I as- sume? Neil Young have never been silent about his political views . Why does Trump play his songs at all? People, who like Neil Young, are definitely not the Trump base typical. Like one of the writers over here says: Young is a leftist hippie, – and not what you traditionally would call Trump´s cup of tea. The world is crazy.

    • Billy

      The songs of NY appeal to those redneck Americans who support Trump. They don’t have the IQ or mental capacity to look into or understand (or care) that NY doesn’t support Trump. They hear his music at a Trump event and jump to assume the connection and support. That’s the rub here. NY doesn’t want the connection.