Musicians are fed up with politicians using their songs without permission

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The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Lorde, Sia, Sheryl Crow, Lionel Richie, and dozens more famous entertainers are sick and tired of politicians using their music to push an agenda — especially one they disagree with. The high-profile musicians partnered with the Artist Rights Alliance, a non-profit that advocates for songwriters and musicians, to demand that candidates for public office get clearance to use their songs at campaign rallies going forward. But while the missive is directed at politicians of all ideological leanings, it’s pretty clear the artists’ demands are directed at one campaign in particular — that of Donald J. Trump.

“As artists, activists and citizens, we ask you to pledge that all candidates you support will seek consent from featured recording artists and songwriters before using their music in campaign and political settings,” the ARA’s letter reads. “This is the only way to effectively protect your candidates from legal risk, unnecessary public controversy, and the moral quagmire that comes from falsely claiming or implying an artist’s support or distorting an artists’ expression in such a high stakes public way.”

The kerfuffle over campaign music is a relatively recent development. Throughout the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, artists have objected to their songs being used at President Trump’s rallies. The Rolling Stones threatened to sue his campaign for using their 1968 classic "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as Trump’s walk-off song during events recently, including his controversial rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June. (An odd choice for a campaign tune, as though the Trump team realizes nobody really wants him in charge.) The president used Stones songs during his 2016 campaign as well, and the band asked him to knock it off then, too.

Neil Young is reconsidering suing the president over the use of his songs, as well. The 74-year-old rocker has been begging the campaign to stop using his catalogue since 2015. “Imagine what it feels like to hear ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ after this president speaks, like it is his theme song,” Young wrote on his website recently. “I did not write it for that.”

Protecting artists and their intentions is precisely what the ARA is trying to this election cycle. "We've seen so many artists and estates dragged into politics against their will and forced to take aggressive action to prohibit the use of their music — usually songs that are broadcast during political rallies or used in campaign ads,” the organization explained in a statement. “It can confuse and disappoint fans and even undermine an artists’ long-term income — and mostly, it's just not right.”