Yet Another Artist Wrongly Claims that Politician Has No Right to Use Their Music

The Independent is running an article today entitled Adele didn’t give Donald Trump permission to use her music at rallies. You get one of these every now and then, with musicians complaining that politicians have no right to use their music in rallies.

Unfortunately for the musicians, they’re simply wrong, and the newspapers and other media that report this are stupid. As ASCAP explains:

Q: What licenses does a campaign need to play music at campaign events?

A: First, while many venues have proper “public performance” licenses, as a general rule the licenses for convention centers, arenas and hotels exclude music use during conventions, expositions and campaign events. If a campaign is holding many events at dozens of different venues, it may be easier for the campaign itself to obtain a public performance license from ASCAP (and possibly one or both of the other two U.S. performing right organizations if the music is licensed through one of them). This would guarantee that, no matter where you have a campaign stop, it would be in compliance with copyright law.

ASCAP also points out the following:

Q: if the campaign events are properly licensed, can the campaign still be criticized or even sued by an artist for playing his or her song at an event?

A: Yes. If an artist does not want his or her music to be associated with the campaign, he or she may be able to take legal action even if the campaign has the appropriate copyright licenses. While the campaign would be in compliance with copyright law, it could potentially be in violation of other laws. Specifically, the campaign could be liable under any of the following claims:

  1. “Right of Publicity”, which in many states provides image protection for famous people or artists.
  2. The “Lanham Act”, which covers the confusion or dilution of a trademark (such as a band or artist name) through its unauthorized use.
  3. “False Endorsement” where use of the artist’s identifying work implies that the artist supports a product or candidate.

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.

In essence, playing a song at a rally is covered by the basic license, and no one can complain about that. Using a song in a political ad, however, is totally different, and that requires specific permissions and licensing, but this isn’t what these musicians complain about. As the article in The Independent says:

Adele has told Donald Trump that he does not have permission to use her songs at campaign rallies after fans expressed their anger that the Presidential hopeful was using the singer’s hits as his warm-up music.

This is totally legal, as long as Trump – or the venues hosting him – have paid their license fees to ASCAP, BMI, or whichever licensing agency handles the music. Musicians may not like it, but that’s just the way the copyright system works.

Note that many musicians have complained about this over the years, and I don’t recall any of them seeking legal redress for this type of use.