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Neil Young now thinking about suing Donald Trump over his use of Rockin The Free World

By | Published on Tuesday 28 July 2020

Donald Trump & Neil Young

Neil Young has said that he is now considering suing Donald Trump over the US President’s use of his music at political rallies as criticism grows over the White House’s response to protests in multiple American cities.

Young, of course, is one of a plethora of musicians who have – in the past – criticised Trump’s use of their music at his political events. In Young’s case, it’s usually ‘Rockin The Free World’ that gets played.

To what extent artists and songwriters can stop Trump from using their songs on copyright grounds is debatable, as most of the venues he uses for his events have blanket licences from song right collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP (and, in the US, no licence is actually required on the recordings side).

That said, the Trump campaign has its own political events licence from BMI and ASCAP too, which songwriters can opt out of, and which bans licensees from relying on venue licences where writers have decided to specifically exclude their songs from any one politician’s licence.

However, the legal technicalities of all that remain somewhat ambiguous. Some lawyers reckon there are other grounds that could be used to stop politicians from using an artist’s music at their events, but those too are as yet untested.

For his part, in the past Young – although clearly not especially happy Trump uses his music – has generally seemed to accept that there’s little he can do about it. Although in a post on his Neil Young Archives website last month he said that he reckoned there were, in fact, grounds to sue.

Despite that conclusion, he wouldn’t go legal, he said at the time, because he didn’t want to distract the President and his team from the challenge of battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, more recent events are causing Young to rethink, he has now written. In particular, Trump’s employment of federal law enforcement officers in various US cities to deal with ongoing protests, despite opposition from the mayors of said cities, who argue that local law enforcement had everything under control. And, if anything, the federal officers are making matters worse.

That policy has lead to debates in Washington over the legality of the Trump administration’s use of federal officers in this way, the President’s excuse being that they are protecting federal buildings in each targeted city. Meanwhile, others have criticised the tactics and conduct of the officers who have been employed, and also their use of army-style uniforms.

With all that mind, Young writes in a new post: “I am changing my mind about suing President Trump … There is a long history to consider and I originally considered it, deciding not to pursue. But then President Trump ordered thugs in uniform onto our streets. His idea. He ordered it himself. This all DJT”.

Running through various criticisms – both his own and those of others – about the employment and conduct of those “thugs in uniform”, he concludes: “Imagine what it feels like to hear ‘Rockin In The Free World’ after this President speaks, like it is his theme song. I did not write it for that”.

We await to see if any legal action does, in fact, follow. And if so, what specific arguments are employed.