Neil Young Ends Fight With Trump Campaign Over Rally Music

Law360 (December 7, 2020, 7:45 PM EST) -- Rock star Neil Young on Monday dropped a copyright lawsuit he filed against President Donald Trump's reelection campaign over the use of his songs at rallies.

Four months after suing to stop his music from being used to support "ignorance and hate," the rock legend filed a motion in Manhattan federal court to voluntarily dismiss the infringement case again Donald J. Trump for President Inc.

Terms of the apparent agreement were not publicly disclosed. Neither side immediately responded to requests for details Monday.

Young is one of many artists who objected to the use of their music at Trump events. Guns N' Roses, Pharrell, Rihanna and numerous others have also complained, but Young was the first to file an actual lawsuit.

In it, he accused the campaign of playing "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Devil's Sidewalk" without proper licenses, including at a controversial in-person rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing," Young wrote in a copy of the complaint posted to his website. "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."

Thanks to the complexities of music licensing, stopping a campaign from playing particular music is not as simple as it might seem.

Campaigns secure broad blanket licenses, issued by performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI, for the music played at public events. Those licenses cover hundreds of thousands of songs and allow bars, stadiums and others to safely play most music without the risk of infringing copyrights.

Under a typical performance rights organization license, a user simply pays a fee and doesn't need to seek consent from individual artists. In recent years, ASCAP and BMI have created special licenses for political entities, which allow artists such as Young to exclude their music from a particular campaign's blanket license. It is unclear if Young excluded "Free World" and "Devil's Sidewalk" from the blanket licenses.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that rally venues, such as hotels and convention centers, have their own separate blanket licenses with ASCAP and BMI. Those typically cover songs that are excluded from the political license, and they can give a campaign some legal cover to keep using them.

Young is represented by Ivan Saperstein of Silverstein & Saperstein and by Robert S. Besser.

Attorneys for the Trump campaign have not yet appeared in court.

The case is Young v. Donald J. Trump for President Inc. et al., case number 1:20-cv-06063, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Beta
Ask a question!