As T-shirts were thrown out into the crowd of thousands waiting to hear Donald Trump speak in Chattanooga, Tenn., Sunday night, Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” was playing over the speakers.
But within hours, the pop star made it clear that she did, in fact, want Trump’s camp to stop playing her 2007 hit — and there are precedents and policies that suggest she could get her way.
In the U.S., the use of copyrighted songs at events, venues and businesses is handled by three major Performing Rights Organizations or “PROs.” Political campaigns and conventions are expected to obtain blanket licenses from these organizations in order to use their songs.
“Don’t Stop the Music’s” four songwriters are represented by two PROs: ASCAP and BMI. BMI, in particular, has prominent experience with asking the Trump campaign to cease use of a song.
Two years ago, Trump famously used Queen’s “We Are The Champions” as his entrance music at the Republican National Convention. After the British rock group expressed its disapproval, BMI cited a provision that allows songwriters to remove their work from a political entity’s blanket license.
Rihanna doesn’t have a songwriting credit on “Don’t Stop the Music,” but there are still potential grounds for her to prevent the song’s use.
ASCAP’s guidelines for political campaigns lists several claims a recording artist could file against a political campaign, including false endorsement.
“As a general rule, a campaign should be aware that, in most cases, the more closely a song is tied to the ‘image’ or message of the campaign, the more likely it is that the recording artist or songwriter of the song could object to the song’s usage in the campaign,” ASCAP’s guidelines say.
From Springsteen to ‘Stop the Music’
That’s less of a case with “Don’t Stop the Music” than in other high-profile instances of a musician objecting to their song’s use in a campaign.
Bruce Springsteen denied a request from Ronald Reagan’s staff to use “Born in the U.S.A.” for his ’84 reelection campaign, and later took Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan to task for co-opting the song for their respective campaigns.
While most of these clashes have involved Republican candidates, Democrats haven’t been entirely immune. Barack Obama’s team honored a request from Sam Moore of Sam & Dave to stop playing their song, “Hold On, I’m Coming” at his 2008 rallies.
But few political figures have had more artists disavow the use of their songs than Trump. The list includes Steven Tyler, Neil Young, R.E.M., Adele and now Rihanna.
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