On August 4, 2020, Neil Young sued Trump’s campaign for copyright infringement. The lawsuit originated from the Trump campaign’s public performance of Young’s copyrighted works entitled Rockin’ in the Free World and Devil’s Sidewalk. Allegedly, numerous times at rallies and political events Mr. Young’s works were played.
Facts surrounding the case:
The facts are in dispute. The Trump campaign claims that it has a license to publicly perform the copyrighted works. Young claims that the Trump campaign does not have a license to publicly perform the copyrighted works. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for these facts to surface.
Licensing of musical works:
Most notably, the industry standard for music licensing will likely play a major role in the outcome of this case. Typically, performance rights organizations (PROs) handle the licensing of musical works. These PROs accumulate a vast collection of individual musical works and often issue blanket licenses to venues allowing the venues to publicly perform all of the musical works controlled by the PRO. However, many public venues will secure blanket licenses to all of the major PROs so that the venue has a license to play most, if not all, hit songs.
Other considerations include whether the campaign secured a traveling license from the proper PRO to play the songs at locations of its choosing and whether Young’s contract with the PRO(s) includes a provision excluding his work from political events/entities.
However, there remain numerous facts in this case that are left unknown. I doubt the Trump campaign is going to back down, so we may eventually learn whether the Trump campaign and/or the political venues had a license to play Young’s songs. However, we know from Young’s commentary that he does not want his songs associated with Trump. It’s possible that Neil Young sued Trump’s campaign for copyright infringement as a means to receive a temporary injunction. In particular, the temporary injunction would stop Trump’s campaign from further playing his songs until after the election. After the election, Young may simply drop the case. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out.