Donald Trump kicked off his 2016 presidential bid Tuesday to Neil Young’s anthemic rock and roll track “Rockin’ in the Free World,” taken from his 1989 album Freedom.
Young was not pleased, to say the least.
“Donald Trump was not authorized to use ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ in his presidential candidacy announcement,” a spokesman for Young’s Lookout Management told Rolling Stone. “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America.”
When asked directly about the use of the song, a campaign spokesman said Trump was a fan of the rocker’s music and the track was played legally. The campaign obtained rights to the song through a license agreement with ASCAP.
However, it’s not that straightforward. Song licenses for political campaigns must go through the song’s publisher, and possibly the artist’s record label, to get full clearance. It’s unclear whether the Trump campaign went through that process.
Even if a candidate gains copyright clearance via an ASCAP license, artists still have legal recourse to stop their music from making an appearance in his or her public demonstrations. They could bring charges under “Right of Publicity” or “False Endorsement” claims, according to ASCAP.
This isn’t the first time a candidate has rankled a musician by appropriating a song without their support. Similar tiffs also erupted when Mitt Romney played “Panic Switch” by the Silversun Pickups in 2012, and when Sarah Palin played Heart’s “Barracuda” in 2008.