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When Donald Trump descended the escalator of Trump Tower to announce his 2016 presidential bid, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” blared from the loudspeakers. Almost immediately, Young’s management made clear that the campaign’s use of the song was unauthorized. Neil Young was not alone. Trump drew similar objections from dozens of artists during his first two presidential bids. But as a matter of copyright law, it is unclear whether artists can prevent their songs from being played at campaign rallies.


© University of California, College of the Law. Originally published as Jake Linford and Aaron Perzanowski, Calculating the Harms of Political Use of Popular Music, 75 Hastings L.J. 293 (2024). Available at: