UPDATE: On Saturday, the Rolling Stones released a statement, threatening to sue. “This could be the last time President Donald Trump uses Stones songs. Despite cease & desist directives to Donald Trump in the past, the Rolling Stones are taking further steps to exclude him using their songs at any of his future political campaigning. The Stones’ legal team is working with BMI. BMI has notified the Trump campaign on behalf of the Stones that the unauthorized use of their songs will constitute a breach of its licensing agreement. 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.”
EXCLUSIVE: We finally might have heard the last of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, which was played as his walk-off theme at Saturday’s sparsely attended rally in Tulsa, OK.
The Stones first objected to Trump’s use of the song during the 2016 presidential campaign, but he has continued to use it without their permission. Now he’s been put on notice by BMI – the giant performing rights organization – that there might be legal consequences if he persists.
BMI informed the Trump campaign this week that the unauthorized use of the song will constitute a breach of its licensing agreement. “The Trump campaign has a Political Entities License which authorizes the public performance of more than 15 million musical works in BMI’s repertoire wherever campaign events occur,” a BMI spokesperson told Deadline. “There is a provision, however, 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.”
Asked if the Trump campaign has responded to its letter, the BMI spokesperson said, “Not as of this date.”
A spokesperson for ABKCO, the song’s publisher, told Deadline that it had “teamed up” with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to ask BMI to tell the Trump campaign to stop using their classic 1969 song at the president’s rallies.
BMI’s Music License for Political Entities or Organizations (read it here) states: “One or more works or catalogs of works by one or more BMI songwriters may be excluded from this license if notice is received by BMI that such songwriters object to the use of their copyrighted works for the intended uses by licensee. BMI shall provide written notice to licensee of any such exclusion” – which is whatBMI did this week.
The license also notes that “Any performance by licensee of an excluded work or catalog of works at any event or function following receipt of such notice shall be covered by the grant and shall be deemed a material breach of this agreement, even if the venue or establishment at which the event or function takes place is separately licensed to publicly perform the works or catalog of works. Licensee shall not rely on, or use as a defense, any such separate license or claim arising out of any performance of such excluded works.”
Some politicians think they can circumvent the objections of artists by claiming that the use of their songs is licensed not by their campaigns but rather through the licensing agreements of the venues at which they speak.
The BOK Center in Tulsa has such a venue licensing agreement with BMI, but the BMI spokesperson told Deadline that it “licenses political campaigns and events through its Political Entities or Organizations License, which clearly states that a campaign cannot rely on a venue license to authorize its performance of an excluded work. Therefore, a political campaign cannot and should not try to circumvent BMI’s withdrawal of musical works under its Political Entities License by attempting to rely on another license.”
Numerous other acts have publicly objected to the use of their songs at Trump’s campaign rallies over the last four years, including Neil Young, whose “Rockin’ in the Free World” was played when Trump announced his candidacy after descending an escalator at the Trump Tower in New York in June 2015; Queen for his use of “We Are the Champions” at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland; Rihanna, for the use of her hit song “Don’t Stop the Music” at a 2018 Trump rally in Tallahassee, FL; Pharrell Williams, whose Oscar-nominated “Happy” was played at a Trump rally hours after 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018; Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, whose “High Hopes” played at Trump’s Phoenix event this week; and the estate of the Tom Petty, whose “I Won’t Back Down” also was played at Trump’s rally last week in Tulsa.
The Trump campaign claimed that it had the right to play “Rockin’ in the Free World” at his campaign events through a licensing agreement with ASCAP. Like BMI, ASCAP has a Political Campaign License agreement that provides “a blanket license to perform any or all of the millions of compositions in the ASCAP repertory. However, ASCAP members may ask ASCAP to exclude specific songs from a particular political campaign’s license. In that event, ASCAP will notify the campaign of the excluded works.”
When Young’s manager informed the Trump campaign that its use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” was “not authorized,” Trump’s then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said that the campaign “will respect his wish” to not use the song “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Earlier this week, Petty’s family posted a statement on the late-singer’s Twitter account saying that the Trump campaign’s use of his song is “in no way authorized,” adding that he “would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate.”
Also this week, actress-singer Betty Buckley, a star of the original Broadway production of Cats, urged composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to help stop the playing of the song “Memory” at Trump rallies. She reiterated the sentiment today:
After Rihanna demanded that her songs no longer be played at Trump’s “tragic rallies,” BMI removed her music from its blanket Political Entities License agreement and sent the Trump campaign a letter saying that “any performance of Rihanna’s musical works by the Trump campaign from this date forward is not authorized by BMI.”
When Queen’s famous anthem was played when Trump was nominated in 2016 at the Republican National Convention, the band said it was “an unauthorized use … against our wishes.”