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Neil Young dismisses copyright lawsuit against Donald Trump

By | Published on Tuesday 8 December 2020

Donald Trump & Neil Young

Neil Young has dismissed his lawsuit against Donald Trump, meaning that an interesting test case in relation to the outgoing US President’s use of music at his political rallies without the express permission of songwriters will not now proceed.

Countless artists, of course, have complained about Trump using their music at the increasingly bizarre political freak shows that he has performed across America ever since making his first move into politics. However, many of those complaining artists have conceded that legally they can’t stop Trump using their music at such events because of blanket licences and the collective licensing system.

Which is to say, most of the venues used by Trump will have blanket licences from the music industry’s collecting societies, like BMI and ASCAP, meaning songs repped by those organisation can be legally played on those premises without the specific permission of each songwriter.

That said, it subsequently emerged that the Trump campaign had its own music licences from the collecting societies. And those were special licences for political campaigns that individual songwriters can choose to opt out of. Plus, any holder of such a licence is not meant to rely on any one venue’s licence in order to use music made by a songwriter that has opted out of the political licence.

This meant that songwriters who had opted out of one of those political licences could possibly go legal if their music was still used. Though there are enough technicalities in this domain that we could really do with a test case in court. When Neil Young – a long time Trump critic – announced in August that he was going legal over the President’s use of ‘Rockin In The Free World’ and ‘Devil’s Sidewalk’ at his rallies, we thought we had that test case.

However, Young has now requested that his lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice, which means it cannot be filed again in the future. That suggests an out of court settlement has been reached, though no details of any such settlement have been made public.

It doesn’t mean that Trump’s always busy lawyers have no copyright cases on the go. Eddy Grant also sued the President over the unauthorised use of his music, although that related to a campaign video, where there are arguably fewer complications legally speaking. Although Team Trump have tried to add some complications by claiming the unapproved use of ‘Electric Avenue’ in a Joe Biden bashing video constituted ‘fair use’ under US copyright law.

As for Trump’s use of music at this rallies, the French company that controls the rights in the Village People catalogue did threaten to sue last month over the President’s frequent playing of ‘YMCA’ at his political events, although we await more information about that possible litigation.