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Neil Young Sues Donald Trump for Copyright Infringement

on August 04, 2020, 12:32pm

Neil Young has made good on his threat to sue Donald Trump over the unauthorized usage of his music.

On Tuesday, the veteran rocker posted an unsigned copy of the lawsuit, which will be filed in the Southern District of New York.

The lawsuit states that Trump’s campaign does not have a license or permission to play Young’s music “at any public events.” The suit says Trump’s campaign has “willfully ignored” the musician’s past public objections, and “willfully proceeded to play [his music] despite its lack of a license and despite its knowledge that a license is required to do so.” Young’s lawyers specifically cite Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20th, during which “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk” were played.

Young is seeking “statutory damages in the maximum amount allowed for willful copyright infringement.”

For years now, Young has sought to stop Trump from using his music to no avail. When Trump played “Rockin’ in the Free World” at a 2015 event announcing his run for president, Young responded with a sternly worded open letter: “I do not endorse hate, bigotry, childish name calling, the superficiality of celebrity or ignorance,” he wrote at the time.

In a follow-up letter posted in 2018, Young said that Trump had chosen “not to listen to my request [to cease playing Young’s music] just as he chooses not to listen to the many American voices who ask him to stop his constant lies, to stop his petty, nasty name calling and bullying, to stop pushing his dangerous, vilifying and hateful rhetoric.”

Earlier this year, after becoming a US citizen with the express purpose of voting against Trump in the upcoming election, Young once more discussed the unauthorized use of his music. Writing directly to Trump, he said, “Every time ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World’ or one of my songs is played at your rallies, I hope you hear my voice. Remember it is the voice of a tax-paying US citizen who does not support you. Me.”

And yet until now, Young had resisted taking legal recourse. As he explained in statement last month, he was hesitant to sue Trump over concerns of “potentially distracting from [his] important work at hand protecting and saving American lives” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, after Trump ordered federal law enforcement officials into American cities last month, Young had a change of heart.

“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,” Young wrote last month.

Read a copy of Young’s lawsuit below. We’ve reached out to representatives of the musician for additional information.


The Rolling Stones also recently threatened Trump with a lawsuit. Last month, the band and the performing rights organization BMI served Trump with a final warning to cease playing the band’s music at official campaign events and rallies. “If Donald Trump disregards the exclusion and persists then he would face a lawsuit for breaking the embargo and playing music that has not been licensed,” a statement read.

As BMI explained to Deadline at the time, the Trump campaign has a Political Entities License which provides them with access to more than 15 million musical works in BMI’s repertoire. However, the license includes a provision that allows BMI “to exclude musical works from the license if a songwriter or publisher objects to its use by a campaign.”

“BMI has received such an objection and sent a letter notifying the Trump campaign that The Rolling Stones’ works have been removed from the campaign license, and advising the campaign that any future use of these musical compositions will be in breach of its license agreement with BMI,” the organization explained.