Artist News Legal

Steven Tyler issues cease and desist over Donald Trump track use, poses interesting legal questions

By | Published on Monday 12 October 2015

Steven Tyler

Reps for Steven Tyler have sent a cease and desist to noted character comedian Donald Trump demanding that he stop playing the Tyler-penned Aerosmith power ballad ‘Dream On’ at his political rallies. Trump, of course, is vying to be Republican candidate in next year’s American presidential race.

Various musicians have complained about Trump – and other American politicians, usually Republican – using their songs at political events, though this complaint is interesting for two reasons. First, Trump is an Aerosmith fan, and Tyler has had past dealings with the billionaire. He judged at one of businessman’s Miss USA pageants, and reportedly attended a Republican debate in August as Trump’s guest.

Secondly, and more interesting, are the legalities outlined in the cease and desist. As previously noted, generally speaking providing a politician has a public performance licence from the relevant collecting societies – so ASCAP and BMI in the US – then they are cleared to play songs repped by those organisations at their events without getting specific permission from the songwriter.

Some have wondered in the past whether that’s fair at political events, where the performance of well-known songs may imply that the songwriters or artists behind them are in some way endorsing the politicians in the room.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tyler’s cease and desist, coming from the office of his attorney Dina LaPolt, suggests various reasons why – even if Trump has the relevant public performance licences (which the letter requests to see) – there may still be grounds to stop ‘Dream On’ being played at his rallies.

Those grounds include false endorsement under the Lanham Act, and the infringement of Tyler’s publicity and privacy rights. These arguments are, in the main, untested in this kind of dispute, so if this matter got to court, well, that would be a very interesting test case indeed.

Of course, most politicians wouldn’t want a messy legal battle with a popular musician, though Trump isn’t “most politicians” and, if anyone was going to fight an action of this kind, it would probably be him. Though you can’t help thinking that the last person he’d want to have that fight with is Steven Tyler.

For her part, LaPolt said in a statement: “This is not a political nor personal issue with Mr Trump. Steven works tirelessly with both Republicans and Democrats regarding copyright reform and his position has always been consistent regarding copyright and intellectual property. Simply, one must get permission from the music creators. Steven wrote 100% of ‘Dream On’, and this is about the unauthorised use of his property. Steven is a registered Republican”.

It remains to be seen how Trump responds.