One day after Neil Young criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for using Young’s 1989 song “Rockin’ in the Free World” at a campaign event, Trump’s campaign manager tells Rolling Stone the candidate will refrain from any future use of Young’s music.
“We won’t be using it again,” campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says. “There are plenty of other songs to choose from, despite the fact that Mr. Trump is a big fan and likes Neil very much. We will respect his wish and not use it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Young’s management company Lookout issued a statement on behalf of the singer on Tuesday, stating, “Donald Trump was not authorized to use ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ in his presidential candidacy announcement. “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America.”
Despite Young’s protestations, though, Lewandowski asserts that the campaign’s usage of the song was done through proper and legitimate channels. “We’ve done everything legal and by the book,” he says. “The Trump Campaign for President wrote two checks, which were cashed, and signed two contracts: One was with [performance-rights organization] ASCAP and the other was with BMI. We have two legally binding contracts in place that allow us to go to their repertoire of music and use those [tracks] legally.”
By law, ASCAP is obligated to grant a license to any business, including political campaign organizations, that requests it, provided all paperwork is in order. “If ASCAP and BMI have not properly licensed that music to Neil, then they shouldn’t have it on their website,” Lewandowski says. “But we have a proper license in place through legal, binding documents with cashed checks.”
When reached for comment, a representative for ASCAP referred Rolling Stone to their Music in Political Campaigns page. On their site, ASCAP addresses artists’ legal rights and criticisms under the question, “Can the campaign still be criticized or even sued by an artist for playing his or her song at an event?”
“Yes. If an artist does not want his or her music to be associated with the campaign, he or she may be able to take legal action even if the campaign has the appropriate copyright licenses,” ASCAP says. “While the campaign would be in compliance with copyright law, it could potentially be in violation of other laws, including ‘Right of Publicity’ and ‘False Endorsement.'”
This isn’t the first time Trump and Young have crossed paths on the political music spectrum. In 2006, Trump attended a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young show during the group’s Freedom of Speech tour. At one point, Trump and author Salman Rushdie stood up and sung along to the 2006 song “Let’s Impeach the President,” written and produced by Young.
“He’s got something very special,” Trump told Rolling Stone in 2008. “I’ve listened to his music for years. His voice is perfect and haunting. I’ve met him on occasions and he’s a terrific guy.”
For Lewandowski, the controversy appears to be personal against Trump, though it hasn’t diminished the campaign staff’s confidence. “I’d be willing to wager that the Trump campaign is the only one you’re calling out,” he says. “I don’t understand [that] other than the fact that he’s the only guy that’s going to win the Republican nomination.”