And Finally Artist News

Guns N Roses become latest act to ask Trump to stop using their music at rallies

By | Published on Monday 5 November 2018

Guns N Roses

Guns N Roses have become the latest act to hit out at Donald Trump for playing their songs at his political rallies, ahead of tomorrow’s mid-term elections in the US. This follows recent threats of legal action from Pharrell Williams and now Rihanna.

Axl Rose tweeted yesterday: “Just so ya know, GNR – like a lot of artists opposed to the unauthorised use of their music at political events – has formally requested [our] music not [be] used at Trump rallies or Trump associated events”.

He went on: “Unfortunately, the Trump campaign is using loopholes in the various venues’ blanket performance licenses which were not intended for such craven political purposes, without the songwriters’ consent. Can [you] say ‘shitbags’?!”

The “loopholes” Rose refers to are really just the basic functioning of those blanket licences issued by collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP to cover the public performance of their members’ songs. Venues have such licences precisely so that they do not need to acquire specific permission for every song they use.

Though there is an argument that organisers of political events still have a moral obligation to find out if an artist minds their songs being played, even if a venue has all the required public performance licences. However, there is no clear legal obligation under copyright law. And if the Trump regime only used music by artists who supported the president it would be quite a short playlist. Even Kanye West’s music might now be off the table.

The use of music at political rallies is all the more annoying for artists, of course, when said events are televised and therefore seen further afield, something Rose referenced as he went on: “Personally, I kinda liked the irony of Trump supporters listening to a bunch of anti-Trump music at his rallies, but I don’t imagine a lot of em really get that or care. And when [your] phone’s blowin up cuz peeps [are] seein/hearin ‘Sweet Child’ on the news at a rally, as a band we felt we should clarify [our] position”.

Last week, Pharrell Williams sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump after he played his song ‘Happy’ at an event just hours after the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“Pharrell has not, and will not, grant you permission to publicly perform or otherwise broadcast or disseminate any of his music”, wrote lawyer Howard King in the letter. “On the day of the mass murder of eleven human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist’, you played his song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana. There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose”.

Trump has not commented on any of the latest threats from pop stars, which have become a common feature of his brief stint at a politician. Although during the 2015 election campaign, he did agree to stop playing Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ following a legal threat from Steven Tyler. Trump said that, while he had “the legal right to use Steven Tyler’s song”, he had found a “better one to take its place” anyway.

Some lawyers have argued that there may be other legal routes that could be used to try to block politicians from using music without specific permission, even where a venue has its BMI and ASCAP licences. This might involve employing trademark law and personality rights as well as, or instead of, copyright law.

It was perhaps with that in mind that Rihanna – the latest artist annoyed to learn that one of her songs had been used at a Trump rally – tweeted yesterday that she planned to take legal action.