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Tom Petty estate issues cease-and-desist to Trump campaign

By | Published on Monday 22 June 2020

Tom Petty

With Donald Trump back in campaigning mode – if he was ever out of it – it’s time for another round of artists being angry about their music being used at his rallies. Kicking things off, after Saturday’s lacklustre event in Tulsa, is the Tom Petty estate, which has not taken kindly to his song ‘I Won’t Back Down’ being used at the event. So much so it’s issued a cease-and-desist notice.

In a statement on social media, the estate says: “Trump was in no way authorised to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind. Both the late Tom Petty and his family firmly stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. Tom Petty would never want a song of his to be used in a campaign of hate. He liked to bring people together”.

“Tom wrote [‘I Won’t Back Down’] for the underdog, for the common man, for EVERYONE”, it goes on. “We want to make it clear that we believe everyone is free to vote as they like, think as they like, but the Petty family doesn’t stand for this. We believe in America and we believe in democracy. But Trump is not representing the noble ideals of either”.

“We would hate for fans that are marginalised by this administration to think we are complicit on this usage”, they conclude. “Concurrently, we have issued an official cease-and-desist notice to the Trump campaign”.

The Petty family joins a long list of artists and estates who have hit out at Trump using their music. At rallies, for the most part, there is little that can be done. The use of music at these events is often covered by blanket licences held by the venues, so it’s perfectly legal for Trump to play it without first getting permission.

There is arguably a moral obligation to get that permission before aligning someone’s music with a political campaign, but such moral considerations are not usually enshrined in copyright law. Especially in the US.

Back in 2015, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler did attempt to present other legal arguments as to why Trump wasn’t allowed to use his band’s song ‘Dream On’. However, in that case, Trump agreed to stop using the track anyway, so those legal arguments were never tested in an actual lawsuit.

As campaigning for this year’s Presidential elections ramps up, and with Trump an even more divisive character these days (who’d have thought that was possible?) – especially given his response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests across the US – we can expect plenty more artists hitting out at him playing their songs at his rallies in the months ahead. Even if audience sizes continue to be relatively modest.

Indeed, earlier this month, the Village People asked Trump to stop walking on stage to ‘Macho Man’.