At the Republican national convention, Donald Trump entered with Queen’s “We Are The Champions” playing. Brian May called this an “unauthorized use” and said that Trump had not asked permission to use the song.
Can Brian May or Queen (or whoever owns the publishing) legally stop Trump from using their music? Is there legal recourse?
Can Queen Shut Trump Down With Copyright Laws?
Probably not, you might be surprised to learn.
While there are various copyright laws that have to do with music, this particular instance falls under what’s called “public performance” copyright law. If a song is performed publicly, the owners of the rights to the song (usually the songwriters and record/publishing company) are supposed to get paid. That’s true if the song is played on the radio, or in a restaurant, or at a political convention.
Usually, that responsibility falls to the venue.
How Performance Royalies Work
Radio stations keep track of which songs they play, and the royalties are distributed on that basis. But venues typically don’t track every song. They usually purchase what’s called a blanket license. A blanket license conveys the right for the venue to play pretty much any song. The venue buys the license from folks that collect performance royalties.
The folks that collect performance royalties are called PROs (Performing Rights Organizations), and include entities such as ASCAP and BMI. “We Are The Champions” is a BMI song.
So, the venue in this case (the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland), most likely has a blanket license which covers the song being played in the convention hall. If the Trump campaign has used the song in several locations, they may have purchased a license, as well. The would contact BMI to do this, and wouldn’t have to contact Queen.
If Trump used the song in a commercial, he’d had to get a different kind of license (a synch license), which he’d have to negotiate, and it sounds like it would be denied.
There may be some legal recourse, as there are other protections besides copyright laws. But as far as copyright goes, Trump’s people are probably in the clear. However, they’ll probably stop using the song, as it’s now negative publicity for them.
Keith (The Do-It-Yourself Musician)
PS: I’m not a lawyer, and none of this should be considered legal advice 🙂