Adele to Donald Trump: Hello, Can You Hear Me?

Attorney, The Creekmore Law Firm PC


Donald Trump campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo by Marc Nozell used under CC-by-2.0 license.

Donald Trump campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo by Marc Nozell used under CC-by-2.0 license.

This month we tackle on our blog and at our talks in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and Richmond the topic of media licensing in public places.  And in this post, Donald Trump, the brash presidential candidate, real estate magnate, and apparent music thief, or so says Adele.  Is she right?

Full disclosure: I strongly dislike Donald Trump and I love Adele.  My son sings along to “Hello” whenever it comes on the radio.  I have an Amazon mix that has “Hello” from Adele followed by “Hello” from Lionel Richie.  Which one is better?  Hard to say, since they’re both awesome.

But back to Donald Trump and those licensing rights.  The Donald, like any politician, likes to play popular songs to rev up the crowd before his introduction.  Apparently an avid fan of Adele (he recently attended one of her concerts in New York City), Trump had taken to playing either “Rolling in the Deep” or “Skyfall” at his rallies.  Learning of this, Adele, through a spokesperson, told the press emphatically, “Adele has not given permission for her music to be used for any political campaigning.”  When asked whether she would send a cease and desist letter to the Trump campaign, the spokesperson replied, “No comment.”

Donald Trump is no stranger to this kind of cease and desist letter.  He actually received one from Steven Tyler, frontman for Aerosmith, after Trump played “Dream On” at some of his rallies.  In the cease and desist, Tyler’s lawyer claimed that Trump’s use of “Dream On” gave “the false impression that [Tyler] is connected with or endorses Mr. Trump’s presidential bid.”  And so Trump stopped, although he insisted he had the legal right to continue using the song if he wanted.  Was Trump right?

Probably.  Trump was alluding to the fact that ASCAP and BMI, two music licensing clearinghouses, regularly provide licenses to use copyrighted material in public to anyone willing to pay for the rights, and invariably, every popular artist and their songs belong to these or some other clearing house.  Undoubtedly, Donald Trump’s campaign purchased these rights, both for Aerosmith’s song and Adele’s.  The separate right of publicity mentioned by Steven Tyler’s attorney, although clever, probably would not succeed in court, since that right relates only to a celebrity’s right to use (or not use) his image for the purposes of endorsing a product.  Given the history of candidates using a variety of songs as “entrance” music, it is unlikely the public would draw the conclusion that any particular artist endorsed the candidate simply because the candidate used their song in this manner.

And so Adele asks Donald Trump, “Hello, can you hear me?”  I think his answer is probably something along the lines of “Yes, and you’re out of luck.”

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