Recently, a participant at a Tennessee rally for President Trump tweeted that Rihanna’s music was playing at the event. When Rihanna saw this, she took action to protect her copyright to the song.
The world of copyrighting music is complex, and this situation may not have a easily deciphered answer. Does a copyright protect when and where an artist’s music can be played? Can Rihanna sue President Trump for simply playing her music at a public event? Like Rihanna, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Adele and family members of Prince and Luciano Pavarotti all have asked the president to stop using their music at his events.
Is Trump’s use of music truly copyright infringement?
If a work is copyrighted, the artist can only take legal action if it was used publicly rather than privately, and if the person or company using it did not have a license.
However, it can be difficult to distinguish the line between what is public and what is not. Copyright laws lay out specific conditions that must be met for the use to be considered public, such as the size of the venue, as well as how the music is being used.
The issue in the situation between Rihanna and Trump is twofold: her copyright licenses are handled through a rights organization, and it is not clear whether her music is actually endorsing Trump or not, which is an important element of infringement.
The two big points of debate in this case
Most music licensing matters are handled through third-party organizations. The organization that holds Rhianna’s licensing rights would have been the one to issue the Trump rally organizers a performance license. Until it is confirmed whether or not they did so, Rihanna and her legal team will not be able to proceed further.
On top of that, there is debate surrounding the intentions in using her music. Copyrighted music cannot be used to endorse a public figure, but this is another instance in which it is difficult to determine if this is the case or not. Was Trump using the song to endorse himself, or simply playing it as background music during the event?
As it is difficult to regulate the use of copyrighted music, all musicians should be discussing their intellectual property rights with an attorney to ensure they do not end up in a situation where their music is being used against their will.