“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”: The Rolling Stones threaten Trump with Lawsuit

July 11, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Rolling Stones are threatening to sue US President Donald Trump if he continues to use their songs in his campaigns.

What does this mean?

The 1969 classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was played at a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on 20 June 2020. The same song was used by the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election. As the song has not been licensed for use in political campaigns, President Trump’s continued use of the music has outraged both the band and fans of the band. The Rolling Stones have made it explicitly clear in numerous public statements that they do not endorse the President.

Through BMI, a performing rights organisation, artists can opt-out of having their music played at political events. A BMI statement announced that the Stones have opted out. The band has also issued a “cease and desist letter” (a formal letter to ask a party to stop performing an illegal activity) which has not been respected by the Trump campaign. Following this, BMI is working with the Rolling Stones’ legal team to prevent further unlawful and unauthorised use of their music. If the Trump campaign continues to play their music at events, they will be in breach of its licensing agreement and could face a lawsuit. 

This is not the first time that Trump has flouted licensing agreements. Various artists such as the band R.E.M have stepped forward with similar allegations of licensing breaches.

What's the big picture effect?

President Trump’s disregard for licensing agreements is only the tip of the iceberg. Illegal streaming and piracy have made it increasingly difficult for music artists to protect their intellectual property (the music itself, including the lyrics, the musical composition and sound recording) from copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is the use or production of copyright-protected material without the permission of the copyright holder. Through licensing agreements, music artists can set the terms of use of their copyrighted material, giving them control over their intellectual property and allowing them to be remunerated through the license. 

Without licensing agreements, music artists have very little control over their intellectual property and how it is used. It is particularly harmful that a prominent political figure such as President Trump has shown disregard for licensing agreements as the music industry is already struggling to keep the problem in check.

Furthermore, established artists such as The Rolling Stones and R.E.M rightfully see their reputation as a business asset and do not want to be thought to endorse candidates whose political ideologies they do not support. Such an association may harm their reputation and thus sales of their music as well as future collaboration with brands and other artists. 

It is clear that preventing the breach of licensing agreements is important for the survival of the music industry as a whole as well as for the reputation of individual music artists. Whilst it is concerning to see prominent figures using music unlawfully, performing rights organisations such as BMI are certainly stepping in to ensure music artists’ rights are respected. 

Unfortunately for Trump, it seems that you really can’t always get what you want.

Report written by Emily Noble

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