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Neil Young sues Donald Trump

By | Published on Wednesday 5 August 2020

Donald Trump & Neil Young

Neil Young has followed up on his threat to sue Donald Trump by, you know, suing Donald Trump.

The lawsuit over Trump’s use of Young’s music at his political rallies has been a long time coming. Young first complained about this when Trump used ‘Rockin In The Free World’ at an event to announce that he had decided to stand for President all the way back in 2015.

Since then, Young has repeatedly said in public that he’d quite like Trump to stop using his music, while Trump has mainly done his best to ignore the musician.

Until recently, Young generally seemed to accept that there wasn’t much he could do about Trump continuing to use his tracks at his rallies, but then in June he posted an update on his website saying that he now reckoned there were grounds to sue. Despite that, he said, he would not go legal, because it would distract the President and his team from tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, last month – Trump having apparently given up on even pretending to care about the pandemic, instead focusing on sending quasi-soldiers onto the streets of certain American cities to battle Black Lives Matter protesters – Young said that he was now re-thinking his stance on taking legal action. And that, my friends, brings us up to right now. Or at least this week. Because Neil Young has filed legal papers and they are a lot of fun.

“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. “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”.

Yes! Strap the fuck in. The suit relates to Trump’s use of both ‘Rockin In The Free World’ and ‘Devil’s Sidewalk’, and argues that by playing those tracks “numerous times” for the “entertainment and amusement” of attendees of various political rallies and events, Young’s copyright was in-fuckin-fringed, mate.

“Plaintiff has continuously and publicly objected to the use by the campaign of the songs”, it goes on, noting – as did we – that the first such objection was after the 2015 launch event. “In response, the campaign issued a statement saying that it had procured a licence to do so, thus acknowledging that it knew a licence is required”.

Most of the venues Trump 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). Usually, events in those venues would be able to play Neil Young songs under their ASCAP licence.

That said, the Trump campaign also has its own political event licences from BMI and ASCAP too, mainly because sometimes it stages rallies in non-traditional venues that do not have their own blanket licences from the collecting societies.

Crucially, songwriters can opt out of those political licences. Plus the terms of said licences ban licensees from relying on venue licences where writers have decided to specifically exclude their songs from any one politician’s licence – as the Rolling Stones have done.

Presumably Young has withdrawn his catalogue for use under the political licence too, although the lawsuit does not make this clear, or indeed deal with any of the ins and outs of blanket licences at all. It just states that when Trump used Young’s songs at his disastrous rally in Tulsa, the campaign did not have a licence to do so. Nor has it had on any other occasion since.

Young is seeking statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement, plus legal costs and any other damages the court sees fit to award him. And most importantly, obviously, he wants Donald Trump to bloody well stop using his bloody songs.