Music Features

Lorde, Sia, Pearl Jam, and More Demand Politicians Stop Playing Music Without Permission

A new letter from the Artist Rights Alliance demands that politicians receive permission for the political use of music.

Update 8/4/2020: Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young has filed a copyright infringement suit against Donald Trump's presidential campaign for the use of his songs "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Devil's Sidewalk" without a license. The Trump campaign reportedly played the songs at the June 20th rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where it's suspected that the late entrepreneur and Republican political figure Herman Cain contracted COVID-19.

The suit states that Young "cannot allow his music to be used as a 'theme song' for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate." The lawsuit will serve as a test case for license exclusions in the case of political events.

Imagine pouring your hard work, your talent, and your heartfelt emotions into a work of art for all of humanity to enjoy, only to have it co-opted by a symbol of hatred and division.

For a stunning number of musicians who vehemently oppose Donald Trump's presidency, that is exactly what has happened in recent years. Despite repeated statements that they don't want their music played at his political rallies, Donald Trump's re-election campaign has continued to use music from artists like Adele, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Pharrell Williams, Axl Rose, and honestly too many others to mention.

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Axl Rose Hilariously Owns Steven Mnuchin in Covid Twitter Feud

The Guns N' Roses singer proved himself to be more than a match for the Secretary of the Treasury

On Wednesday U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin got into a dispute on Twitter with Guns N' Roses lead vocalist Axl Rose and found himself intellectually outmatched.

The feud kicked off after Rose tweeted that Mnuchin is "officially an a**hole," in response to a Fox Business interview in which Mnuchin said "this is a great time for people to explore America." While Mnuchin acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic may necessitate a hold on international travel extending into 2021, he felt it was important to express optimism for people to travel domestically and "explore America," even though America has by far the most cases of COVID-19 of any nation on Earth.

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Rihanna and The Rolling Stones Can’t Get What They Want

Rihanna joins the likes of Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses in objecting to Trump using her songs. But what recourse do artists have?


Rihanna has joined an illustrious group of pop stars who publicly object to Donald Trump playing their songs at his rallies.

Like many in her cohort, the singer took to social media to voice her opposition. But what other recourse is there?

It turns out that politics, the music industry, and copyright laws are strange bedfellows. If recording artists want Trump to abstain from using one of their tracks, the quagmire of intellectual property law means they essentially have to politicize their brand in order to distance themselves from Trump.

Philip Rucker, the White House bureau chief for The Washington Post, tweeted that Rihanna's 2007 hit "Don't Stop the Music" was "blaring in Chattanooga as aides toss free Trump T-shirts into the crowd...Everyone's loving it." To which Rihanna promptly replied, "Not for much longer" and denigrated the Trump camp for holding one of "those tragic rallies."

Other artists who have openly protested Trump's use of their work include Pharrell Williams, The Rolling Stones, Adele, and Guns N' Roses. Frontman Axl Rose specifically accused Trump of "using loopholes in the various venues' blanket performance licenses which were not intended for such craven political purposes, without the songwriters' consent."

He took to Twitter to reaffirm that the band is opposed to being affiliated with Trump, but added, "Personally I kinda liked the irony of Trump supporters listening to a bunch of anti Trump music at his rallies but I don't imagine a lot of 'em really get that or care."

The standard practice of politicians using popular music depends on a mix between loose copyright laws and respect for the artist. Music attorney Marc Ostrow notes, "Usually what that after the artist makes his or her position objecting to the usage, the political figure voluntarily ceases to use the song." Trump has, unsurprisingly, not respected many artists' wishes.

This is owing to the fact that the artist, ultimately, has limited ownership of his/her song. Performing rights organizations (PROs) such as ASCAP or BMI manage licensing and royalties of artists' work, mediating between creators and whomever wants to use their work. Most high capacity venues like stadiums hold blanket licenses that apply to a large cache of media, but these need to be checked by the organizers of rallies and conventions, since such events can be excluded from a venue's license. If a song is covered by a licensing deal, then the song is legally in fair use, regardless of the artist's preferences.

In response, an artist can withdraw their work from a PRO and risk losing all royalties associated with intended radio and commercial replay, or they can follow in the steps of Pharrell and Aerosmith, whose respective lawyers have issued cease and desist letters to the White House claiming violation of trademark rights.

As Mick Jagger lamented after The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" ironically became Trump's de facto campaign song, there's little an artist can do. He's publicly complained, "They can play what they want" under blanket licensing deals.

NZ Herald

Ultimately, an artist's best recourse is to publicly denounce political figures who may be using their work to promote themselves. Social media estrangement is a strange substitute for lawful copyright. However, loosely written laws and the absence of honor in the Trump administration only widens the existing nexus of pop culture and politics. On the one hand, recording artists are spotlighting political conversations that are shaping art as much as legislature. On the other hand, it's another instance of politicians and industry giants getting what they want at the expense of everyone else.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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Axl Rose wants those fat memes that mock his weight gain removed from the Internet, and he's demanding that Google comply with his wishes.

Good luck fatty, I mean Axl.

The Internet is a cruel place; welcome to the jungle.

The most popular of the memes are based on a photo of Rose's bloated face, taken at a 2010 concert by Canadian photographer Boris Minkevich. Rose claims that all photographers were required to sign a release form upon entering the concert, and that therefore the images are his property.

Minkevicu has said that he can't remember whether or not he signed a release.

Assisted by internet privacy firm Web Sheriff, Rose is asking Google to remove the memes from its search engines.

His takedown requests cite the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which officially codified and criminalized internet piracy in America in 1998.

Beyonce used a similar tactic with Buzzfeed in 2013, to eliminate an unflattering image. She was not successful. In Rose's case, the irony is that until he issued the DMCA requests, most people were probably unaware of the memes he wants removed.

Poor Axl!

Once the epitome of lean, androgynous sex appeal, he has committed the crime of letting himself go.

He's been ridiculed over the years for all his attempts at salvaging his youthful good looks, from his ill-advised cornrows to obvious plastic surgery. Rockers are occasionally allowed to get wrinkly (talking to you, Mick and Kieth!) but plastic surgery and weight problems are sins not easily forgiven, particularly in men.

If only Axl were less sensitive, less know, those traits we once loved him for.

Here's one of the memes. Don't look at it, for god-sake!

When Axl Rose announced that he would not be joining Guns 'N Roses for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend, it sent everyone (well, us) speculating as to who could possibly be tabbed to replace the legendary frontman for their commemorative concert at the ceremonies. Would it be Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, experienced playing with Slash and Duff from his days in Velvet Revolver? Or perhaps Buckcherry frontman Josh Todd, as devout a GnR disciple as to be found in popular music? Or maybe Lana Del Rey, because it would be hilarious and why the hell not?

Nope. It was some dude named Myles Kennedy.

Kennedy was the safe, perhaps obvious choice, due to his current involvement with Slash as the vocalist in his solo project, and his experience replacing legendary (sic) lead rock vocalists due to his time served in Alter Bridge—better remembered as Creed without Scott Stapp. With the rest of GnR, Kennedy sang a trio of Appetite for Destruction classics, "Mr. Brownstone," "Sweet Child o Mine" and "Paradise City"—better luck next time, "Rocket Queen"—while Axl was roundly booed during Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong's induction speech. ( “Shut up. He was the greatest frontman to ever step in front of a microphone,” defended Armstrong. "But he is ... crazy. And I can vouch for that.")

Disappointing all around. C'mon guys, you couldn't have at least gotten Andrew W.K.? He's always up for doing stuff.

[L.A. Times]

In case you haven't heard, Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N' Roses and professional crazy person, has followed the proud example of The Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten by declining his acceptance (as part of GnR) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Axl's letter was firm but surprisingly polite, merely insisting that while he begrudged no one in the band (past or present) their right to take credit for the group's accomplishments, there was simply no chance of the band's classic lineup reforming. (Axl referred to intimations of such a reunion as "misguided attempts to distract from our efforts with our current lineup of myself, Dizzy Reed, Tommy Stinson, Frank Ferrer, Richard Fortus, Chris Pitman, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and DJ Ashba." Geez, with heavy hitters like Frank Ferrer and DJ Ashba, why even waste time worrying about Izzy and Slash?)

Anyway, no, Axl Rose will not be showing up at the Rock Hall's induction ceremony this Saturday night. Nevertheless, Guns 'N Roses will still be inducted (courtesy of Green Day) and the rest of the band will likely still perform a brief smattering of their classic songs, albeit with a different lead singer. But who will that replacement singer be? Well, it has to be someone from a later generation of rock—no peer of GnR's would so support their induction before being inducted themselves, and no predecessor would be likely to expend that kind of time and energy on the band. And it's probably gotta be someone whose musical path can in some way be traced back to Axl and Guns—it'd just be uncomfortable to have someone like Brandon Flowers of The Killers or, uh, Gotye trying to rep the Appetite for Destruction lifestyle.

Who are the most likely candidates, then? Well, let's lay some odds.


The obvious favorite to replace Axl in GnR is the guy who had outrageous success doing so (in essence) once before. Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland sold a couple million records last decade as the lead singer of Velvet Revolver, which featured such ex-Gunsers as Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum. Weiland might not be able to hit the high notes as well as Rose did once upon a time, but the boy can strut with the best of them, and we assume he has a solid amount of practice at the Axl Shimmy—as crucial a part of the performance as any.


Perhaps the last truly great balls-out rock star, and certainly the best one still going in any relevant capacity. The Kid ain't exactly a GnR disciple—they're a little too West Coast to jibe perfectly with his southern sensibilities—but no one understands the essence of rock quite like Rock, and we have no doubt that he could put together a very respectable "Paradise City" or "Nighttrain" on relatively short notice. He might even add a rap breakdown to "Paradise," which it's always sort of been crying out for.


Who? That question is the only thing separating Todd from the very top of this list. You can probably count the list of rockers of the last 15 years who have heeded the lessons of late-'80s L.A. metal as prudently as Buckcherry (of "Lit Up" and "Crazy Bitch" fame), but Todd never quite made it to that top strata of rock stardom, and anybody who recognizes his name without the Buckcherry context has probably long since pawned his TV for more Jack and coke money, so it wouldn't exactly be the Hall's best-possible get. You can probably throw the guy from Hinder (Austin Winkler!) in here too.


He's back, you know. What better way to re-introduce himself to the world, in his new digs as a member of the Young Money crew, than to pay tribute to the best nu-metal frotman of his day? (OK, maybe a stretch for Axl/Guns, but c'mon, have you ever listened to "One In a Million?" "Out ta Get Me?" GnR were basically the white N.W.A.) Plus, this way, maybe Lil Wayne and Birdman show up as well just for the heck of it—Weezy can play the acoustic on "Patience" while Birdman whistles the intro.


You know the Rock Hall's all about grabbing those headlines, and few names would demand more copy than rumored-but-c'mon-not-really Axl girlfriend Lana Del Rey's. The "Video Games" singer is already a pro at the awkward live performance anyway, and it's been a while since the internet exploded over something LDR-related. Plus, girl could probably do a mean "Don't Cry."


A rock star's got the right to change his mind, doesn't he? You can't underrate Axl's general mental instability and general impetuousness here—this is the guy who took a decade and a half to record Chinese Democracy, after all. Who's to say that he won't check his DV-R queue, conclude there's nothing really worth watching, hop in his gyrocopter and head over to Cleveland for a last-minute Rock Hall performance? To call it impossible would be doing the Hall-of-Famer a great disservice.