Donald Trump has used several Rolling Stones songs (e.g., Start Me Up, Sympathy for the Devil and You Can’t Always Get What You Want) as well as ones by other artists at campaign stops, but the Stones and others are not enamored with the candidate. They want him to stop playing their tunes, but do they have a right to object? While many artists have protested use of their music in campaigns (particularly Republican ones), the rights to play the songs is not clear.
Whether for political, sports team or employee all-hands meetings, rallies use music to pump up the crowd and set the tone. While nobody mentally ties an upbeat song like Start Me Up with a sports team taking the field or the company playing it at the onset of the employee get-together, use of such music takes on a different tone for political campaigns. People may think the performer is a supporter.
For decades, campaigns have played popular music at rallies, probably without the artist knowing. But, now with ever-present media coverage, You Tube and social media, musicians are more aware when a politician is playing their song. Since Ronald Reagan tried to use Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. at campaign stops, and the rocker star asked the campaign to stop, recording artists have complained loudly about use of songs without permission.
Many campaign stops are held at hotels, restaurants or other facilities that buy “blanket licenses” to play recorded music. Campaigns can also buy blanket licenses. So use of a song is technically, legally okay if such as license was purchased and covers that artists’ catalogue. In many cases, the candidate probably had no knowledge of the music the advance person selected, just that something upbeat and loud will be played. If the same music is played at location after location, though, it is not likely that the candidate did not know.
In the Rolling Stones case, Trump insists that his campaign has the rights to use the music. He told CNBC, “I always buy the rights.”
Even so, a politician can still be sued under federal trademark law for false advertising if the song’s use could imply that the musician endorsed the candidate. Additionally, the “right of publicity” allows artists to protect their images in the public realm and argue that songs being used are tarnishing their brand. Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Survivor and David Byrne are just some of the musicians who successfully sued politicians for using their music, and others have issued threats.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), a nonprofit that licenses music and distributes royalties, publishes guidelines for political campaigns. They state, “As a general rule, a campaign should be aware that, in most cases, the more closely a song is tied to the ‘image’ or message of the campaign, the more likely it is that the recording artist or songwriter of the song could object to the song’s usage in the campaign.”
Obviously, in some instances, there is permission granted and a positive synergy created. The Fleetwood Mac song, Don’t Stop was used as a theme during Bill Clinton’s campaign for president is 1992. The group, which had disbanded, even reassembled to play it at one of his inaugural balls.
Given claims that the candidate is racist and xenophobic, the Trump campaign has gotten push back from several recording artists over the music used at their rallies. They honored requests from Neil Young, Adele and Steven Tyler (from Aerosmith) to stop using their songs. So far, Trump is publicly pushing back on the Rolling Stones’ request to stop using Sympathy for the Devil, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Start Me Up and their other songs on the campaign trail. It remains to be seen if the Stones will get Satisfaction from Trump.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
TIME: The Rolling Stones vs. Donald Trump: Here’s How These Conflicts Got So Common
CNBC: Donald Trump: “We have the rights to use” Rolling Stones songs
TIME: Running for President? Skip These Songs
Washington Post: The Rolling Stones demand Trump stop using its music at rallies, but can the band actually stop him?
Wall Street Journal: The Rolling Stones Want Donald Trump to Stop Using Their Music
New York Times: G.O.P. Candidates Are Told, Don’t Use the Verses, It’s Not Your Song
Photo by Jim Pietryga – Creative Commons license.