In 2008, John McCain was criticized by Heart, the Foo Fighters, and Jackson Browne for using their music on the campaign trail. Al Green complained about Mitt Romney’s use of his music in 2012. Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn. He took the Republican National Convention stage Monday night to Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” — again. And the band wasn’t happy about it.
An unauthorised use at the Republican Convention against our wishes – Queen
— Queen (@QueenWillRock) July 19, 2016
Yes, that’s clear. The GOP probably did need to acquire a license before using Queen’s music. But the GOP wouldn’t necessarily need to get the license directly from Queen. The necessary permissions are available from a performing rights organization called Broadcast Music Inc. Securing the necessary rights from organizations like BMI is a standard step in organizing any big campaign event where music is going to be played.
Performing rights organizations exist to make life easier for both venues and artists. Suppose you’re planning to organize a variety show, with multiple musicians playing a wide variety of songs onstage. If you had to secure the rights to each song individually, organizing an event like this would be a nightmare. You’d have to get a list of songs in advance and then spend hours, perhaps days, on the phone negotiating for rights with dozens of musicians. The process would be so cumbersome that most organizers wouldn’t bother, which would mean less money for musicians and a bad situation for everyone.
To solve this problem, copyright holders organized themselves into broad performing rights organizations. Today, the three major PROs have licenses for the vast majority of music published in the United States. So if you run a concert venue — or, for that matter, a restaurant or bar that plays background music — you can pay a flat fee to these three organizations in exchange for the right to play basically any music you want.
Queen’s “We Are the Champions” is part of the BMI catalog. And because BMI operates under close antitrust scrutiny, it’s required to license its music to all comers on a nondiscriminatory basis. That means the band doesn’t have the option of licensing its music to BMI with a “no Donald Trump” or “no Republicans” restriction. If the Republican Party paid for a BMI license, it can use any music Queen has licensed to BMI whether Queen likes it or not.
Besides Queen, other musicians who have asked Trump to stop using their music include Rolling Stones, Adele, and Aerosmith.