Neil Young Sues Trump Campaign For Use of Songs at Rallies

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Neil Young has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump’s 2020 Presidential campaign for copyright infringement for the public performance of Young’s copyrighted musical compositions. The suit, filed in New York’s Southern District of United States District Court (which covers Manhattan), alleges that the Trump campaign played Young’s performances of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Playground” “numerous times” at rallies and political events without his permission.

Young posted the undated document on his website on Aug. 4. The suit is for copyright infringement of Title 17 of United States code which cites limitations on fair use. “Plaintiff [Young] alleges cause of action for copyright infringement based on Defendant’s [Trump campaign] public performance of Plaintiff’s copyrighted musical compositions. It notes Young “in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”

The suit cites the first occurrence as June 16, 2015, when the then-candidate formally announced that he was running for President for the 2016 election. In 2020, Young’s songs have been played at various Trump rallies.

Three weeks after penning an open letter admonishing the President’s use of his “Rockin’ in the Free World” and other songs at a July 3 rally at Mount Rushmore, Young wrote on July 26 that he was considering suing the President for his unauthorized of his music. On his website, Neil Young Archives, the musician wrote at the time, “I am changing my mind about suing President Trump. Reconsidering.”

On July 30, Young released “Lookin’ For A Leader 2020.” The track “was recorded during the lock-down – live, immediate and raw as emotionally intended.” The song, originally released on the 2006 album, Living With War, has been lyrically revised and, notes the announcement, is “aimed at the problems we currently face.” Listen to it below.

In the hours after the July 3 rally, Young tweeted “This is NOT ok with me.” Three days later, on July 6, the musician posted “A Letter to President Trump” noting in part, “Although I have repeatedly asked you to please not use my music because it indicates that I support your agenda, you have always played my songs anyway at your gatherings, with no regard for my rights, even calling me names on twitter.”

The exchange followed a similar response from Tom Petty’s estate when “I Won’t Back Down” was played at the President’s rally in Oklahoma on June 20. It’s curious that the Trump campaign chooses not to use recordings by artists who are known to be among his supporters.

Young’s July 6 note was dripping with sarcasm. “I know you will do your best for all Americans,” he wrote, “regardless of political leanings. I give you my encouragement in your efforts to Unify America.”

The musician became an American citizen earlier this year.

Listen to “Lookin’ For A Leader 2020”

The organizers of President Trump’s rallies continue to use classic rock anthems from the Rolling Stones, as well, despite the left-leaning artists’ repeated cease-and-desist notices. At the Oklahoma rally, the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was played as the walk-off song.

In the July 26 follow-up, Young wrote, “There is a long history to consider [whether to sue] and I originally considered it, deciding not to pursue. But then President Trump ordered thugs in uniform onto our streets. His idea. He ordered this himself. This is all DJT. He told them to wear camouflage, use unmarked vehicles to take people away, innocent people peacefully protesting – their constitutional right as US citizens.

“Trump has no respect for our military. They are not to be used on the streets of America against law abiding citizens for a Political charade orchestrated by a challenged President. It’s a complete disgrace, the way he plays citizens against one another for his own political gain, saying that only cities run by democrats are in trouble and need help. Those elected leaders asked him not to intervene. The elected representatives in all these cities and states are against Trump’s military thugs shooting people on the streets. Our military is against it. That is not their sacred mission.

“These are thugs with no IDs shooting Americans on the streets. They are not our police. Our police should arrest these untrained thugs for breaking our laws. They have zero de—escalation training, a must have for the job they are mishandling, so they’re totally unqualified to be there.

“The US military is against these thug troops being here on the streets of America, attacking citizens. That is not what our US military does. They know they are not to be on the streets doing a rogue president’s bidding for his own political gain, harming innocent citizens who are legally protesting.

“When the states asked for help with Covid 19, the president did not give it. He said he’s not responsible. When they said don’t bring military to our streets – we don’t need that, he did it anyway for his own political reasons- not for America. This rogue president is creating a much worse problem with his street thug army of uniformed hatred.

“So I am reconsidering. Imagine what it feels like to hear ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ after this President speaks, like it is his theme song. I did not write it for that.”

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