Last Tuesday, May 3, 2016 Donald J. Trump became the “Republican presumptive nominee” after his win in the Indiana primary. When he finished his speech and descended from his elevated platform at the ballroom of New York’s Trump Tower, those inimitable heavy guitar chords from The Rolling Stones masterpiece “Start Me Up could be heard. Trump himself chooses his songs to energize and enthuse his crowds before and after his rallies.


The next day, Wednesday, May 4, The Rolling Stones responded to the Trump campaign regarding the ongoing and unauthorized use of their music. In a statement from the offices of The Rolling Stones came the official Rolling Stones memorandum: “The Rolling Stones have never given permission to the Trump campaign to use their songs and have requested that they cease all use immediately.”

That same day, Trump responded with his trademark guile to a CNBC reporter regarding the request from The Rolling Stones for his campaign to “cease and desist” with the unauthorized use of their music.
   “I didn’t see that,” Trump said with all innocence. “Certainly I have no problem. I like Mick Jagger. I like their songs.”


However, in Omaha, Nebraska, at a Trump rally the following night on Thursday, May 5, another beloved Rolling Stones masterpiece, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was blasted at the Trump rally. 


It was a smug move by the Republican’s choice for President; a move that reflects the Trump strategy of getting what you want regardless of the cost or of consequences.


Copyright law requires that campaigns - or restaurants, stores, or any venue where music will be piped in - do not need the direct permission from the musicians.  What is required is a “blanket license” underperforming organizations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Once purchased, for an artists’ entire catalog, all music is susceptible for use.  

Both ASCAP and BMI are non-profit performing rights organizations that license music and distribute royalties. BMI does allow the artist to remove songs out of the blanket license - which would then disallow their music from public usage.

However, if the music is used in a manner that gives the appearance that the musician supports a candidate, the musicians can send a cease and desist letter, or sue for false advertising. The “right of publicity” - if the use of the musicians’ work makes it appear that the musician supports the candidate, the musician can sue - protects the artist to protect his or her image in the public realm.

The Rolling Stones will not go quietly into that good night: they are not fond of the “Republican presumptive nominee” and his campaign that has become synonymous with racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. The Stones’ disdain and contempt for Trump have spanned over decades. It is in the best interests of the “Republican presumptive nominee” to have savored his laugh last Thursday night in Omaha - and respect the terms given by “the greatest rock and roll band in the world.”

There is a legal precedent for The Rolling Stones to consider: when fellow rock and roll great Jackson Browne sued Republican candidate John McCain and the Republican National Committee for violating fair use of his work and Jackson Browne won.  

Browne’s 1977 hit “Running on Empty” was used in a video web produced by the Republican National Committee in the 2008 Presidential election.  The video’s obvious intent, to ridicule and denigrate his Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, regarding Obama’s idea of reducing gasoline use by cars by ensuring that the car tires are being maintained at the proper level, could well be perceived as Browne endorsing the Republican platform since Browne’s music is the soundtrack of this Republican video web.

Having the Republican party use his personal anthem to promote the Republican platform - policies that were anathema to the very being of Jackson Browne - had the progressive activist and rock and roll musician bring suit against the Republican party.

The case was settled before it reached the courtroom in Browne’s favor.  The legal judgment included an undisclosed amount and a public apology by the Republican National Committee for being negligent in asking permission for the use of popular music in their campaign work and their promise not to do so in the future.

Perhaps the RNC thought it was possible to employ the same sly sleight of hand tactic used by Ronald Reagan during his 1984 reelection campaign.  The president had asked rock and roll legend Bruce Springsteen for the use of Springsteen’s wildly popular and resonant song, “Born in the USA.” When the president’s campaign was denied access to the Springsteen tune, Reagan gave these remarks  when he visited New Jersey, that invoked “Born in the USA” and Springsteen’s music regardless of the musicians' previous denial of such use. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many youngAmericans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”

The Boss, or, Springsteen, became so outraged that his previous apolitical stance transformed him into someone with very powerful political convictions.  Springsteen told Rolling Stone magazine after the incident, “I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need - which is a good thing - is getting manipulated and exploited.”

This need, this unnamed longing to feel great about one’s self and about the country is being exploited once more during this 2016 campaign.  It is an emotion ripe for distortion - as politicos are well aware of.

Trump introduced his candidacy last June 2015, at Trump Tower that began with a spectacular and somewhat royal image of himself and his wife gliding down the Trump Tower elevators to announce his intention to run for the Republican nomination.  In the background could be heard rocker Neil Young’s ode to the political corruption of former President George H.W. Bush, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” 

As Trump went on to denigrate Mexico as a country and its citizens as “rapists and criminals,” the taint had been applied to Neil Young’s song by virtue of its association to the Trump campaign.

Forty years ago, in May 1970, Neil Young was the musician who composed the rock anthem, “Ohio,” for the four students killed by the Ohio National Guard during a protest against the Vietnam War. Young’s last album, his thirty-sixth, “The Monsanto Years” is an indictment of corporate greed and environmental destruction. For Neil Young, the need to distance himself from Trump was paramount.

Young quickly released a statement regarding Trump’s plunder of his work, “Music is a universal language. So I am glad that so many people with varying beliefs get enjoyment from my music, even if they don’t share my beliefs.”

Neil Young used the occasion of Trump’s unfair use of his work with a lengthy political analysis and the claim that he “hopes to speak truth to power” to the economic powers.  “I do not trust self-serving misinformation coming from corporations and their media trolls,” Young emphasized. “I do not trust politicians who are taking millions from those corporations either. I trust people..’Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.’' Neil Young and The Rolling Stones, along with musicians Steven Tyler, R.E.M., Adele and Twisted Sister have all publicly asked the ‘Republican presumptive nominee” to cease using their work.  

Steve Tyler, the front man for the rock group Aerosmith, wrote an essay in Huffington Post regarding the concerns of today’s musicians. Aerosmith’s song, “Dream On” had been used by the Trump campaign - and Tyler’s concern was compensation. “Big changes are happening right now in copyright reform as a result of massive technology changes and with the way fans pay for music and consume music,” Tyler stated. These changes can be a good thing for songwriters and up-and-coming artists if we are paid fairly by those who make money using our work. My intent was not to make a political statement, but to make one about the rights of my fellow music creators.”

Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider made a political statement regarding the band’s music usage. After the band’s hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” was being used last fall, Dee Snider asked that the Trump campaign cease using the song, and the Trump campaign complied.  “When you have white supremacy groups aligning with you, and you don’t denounce them, you don’t say, Wait a minute, I’m not with these people here, and draw some clarity, that’s a problem for me,” the rock star explained.

In their quest to utilize music to capture the public’s sentiment and invigorate their campaigns, politicians would serve their campaigns more effectively if they considered the possible fallout from the choices made to showcase themselves.  The perception by the public over the unfair use of music does not bode well for the candidates themselves.  The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and all of Rock possess a multigenerational base of millions of fans.  And they vote.


Published by Nancy Snyder