Neil Young message to Donald Trump: Stop rockin'

Donald Trump used 'Rockin’ in the Free World' at his campaign kickoff, prompting complaints from songwriter Neil Young. Mr. Trump is just the latest political candidate to clash with a musician about song rights and intentions.

Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Mr. Trump received a complaint from musician Neil Young for his campaign's use of the song 'Rockin' in the Free World.'

Less than a day after launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump may already be hitting the wrong notes.

Mr. Trump announced his candidacy Tuesday to the sound of Neil Young’s 1989 hit “Rockin’ in the Free World,” but Trump had no permission to use the song, said Elliot Roberts, Mr. Young’s manager. The incident makes the real estate tycoon the latest candidate to butt heads with a musician about song copyright in a campaign.

“Donald Trump was not authorized to use ‘Rockin’ in the Free World,’ ” Mr. Roberts said in a statement. “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of [US senator and Democratic candidate] Bernie Sanders for president of the United States of America.”

A campaign spokesperson said that Trump, a fan of Young’s music despite their differing views, used the song legally through a licensing deal with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a performance rights group, Rolling Stone reported.

But ASCAP noted that in some cases, using a song for political purposes requires a campaign to reach out to the song’s publisher and the artist’s record label.

“The laws are complicated,” The Washington Post’s Emily Heil wrote. “It may be okay to use a song in one setting, like a convention center, but taboo in another. How much of the song they use also could be an issue.”

And even when a campaign does get copyright permission, artists can still object to the use of their music under other laws that protect their brand or image, or ban implications of endorsement.

In this, Trump joins a string of politicians whose unauthorized song use has led to awkward headlines and, in some cases, legal action.

Former president George W. Bush used Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” during public appearances for his 2000 campaign – until the musician’s publisher sent a cease and desist order that said the use of the song implied an endorsement that Mr. Petty would not give, Time reported.

In 2008, the rock duo Heart complained about the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign’s use of their 1977 classic, “Barracuda,” telling Entertainment Weekly that the song was written as a “scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women.… [T]here’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it.”

During that same campaign, musician John Mellencamp asked Mr. McCain to stop using his songs, “Our Country” and “Pink House," instead joining Democratic candidate John Edwards at one of his rallies.

In 2011, Tom Petty again sent a cease and desist letter, this time to former Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann, for her use of his 1977 hit, “American Girl,” at a presidential campaign rally.

In their 2012 campaigns, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich also had to stop using “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and “Wavin’ Flag” by Somali-Canadian musician K’naan after the artists raised copyright issues, The New York Times reported.  

The list goes on, and in most cases the musicians involved were as upset about the message their songs were made to send as about unlawful use.

“I got a flood of Twitter messages from people who assumed that it was all true, that I was now a supporter of Mitt Romney’s campaign,” K’naan told the Times. “I’m for immigrants. I’m for poor people, and they don’t seem to be what he’s endorsing. My song being his victory song didn’t seem quite right.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to