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The moment Rihanna heard that President Trump was blaring her hit song "Don't Stop The Music" at a rally at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, she immediately tweeted she and her people were opposed and would put a stop to it. Indeed, they followed up the tweet with a cease and desist letter. One would think that in this day and age of protected intellectual property rights, an owner telling someone they don't have the right to play their music at a rally should be enough to stop the music. But it turns out, it's not that easy.
Can't Stop the Politician
No legal precedent exists for an artist effectively ceasing a politician from playing their music at a rally. Sometimes the love between politician and artist is mutual, like Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" and Bill Clinton. But Donald Trump has found himself on the opposite side of a grudge match with numerous musicians on this topic, including Mick Jaggar, Axel Rose, and Pharrell Williams. However, it may never escalate further than a war of words.
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), own the licenses of most songs. They have retained the right to grant event licenses without the consent of the artist. Though they recommend getting their consent, we all know that if people are not going to get the answer they want, they probably won't ask. Unsurprisingly, President Trump never asked Rihanna, and undoubtedly feels no apology is necessary.
Relying on the Venue
Artists' only hope of being able to keep a politician from using their songs is if the venue that receives the license requires the artist's consent. Meaning, there has to be some sort of contractual obligation between the venue and the event holder to get permission from the artist. There is no legal statute that clearly offers this protection for the artist.
Intellectual property attorneys and professors have thought of possible ways to counter this artistic problem using the Lanham Act and the concept of false advertising, but they have yet to be tested in court. Until then, Rihanna must hope that President Trump uses someone else's song at his next rally, perhaps something by Kanye West.
If you believe songs that you've created are being played without your consent, and are interested in asserting your legal rights, contact an intellectual property attorney today. Copyrights exist for a reason, and if you don't assert your rights, you may lose them. It's worth an initial phone call to see if there's something you can do to protect yours.