Pharrell Williams launches legal action after Trump uses Happy on the day of Pittsburgh massacre

What are the rules around the use of songs at campaign rallies?

What are the rules around the use of songs at campaign rallies?

“There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday," reads the complaint, "and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose.” (Photo by Jim Ross/Invision/AP, File) (The Associated Press)

Pharrell Williams is known around the world for his upbeat song Happy, but the famed songwriter and producer was none too pleased when U.S. President Donald Trump used the megahit at a campaign rally on Saturday — the same day 11 people were killed and six more seriously injured in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. 

Now the artist is demanding that the Trump team stop using the song through a cease and desist letter.

"On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged 'nationalist,' you played his song Happy to a crowd at a political event in Indiana," wrote the singer's lawyer, Howard King, in the letter. "There was nothing 'happy' about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose."

"Pharrell has not, and will not, grant you permission to publicly perform or otherwise broadcast or disseminate any of his music."

A portion of the cease and desist letter issued after the Pharrell Williams hit "Happy" was used at a Donald Trump rally hours after worshipers and police were gunned down at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.

The letter alleges that the use of the song constitutes copyright infringement, as well as a violation of Williams' trademark rights under the Lanham Act, which protects artists from the dilution of a trademark through its unauthorized use.

In launching the action, Williams joins a long list of artists who have ordered the Trump team to stop using their songs — among them Adele, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Neil Young, Queen, R.E.M. and Elton John.

In the past, artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Twisted Sister, Rush and K'naan have also demanded that Republican politicians stop using their songs.

In general, songs can't be used in campaign ads without permission, but the rules around public events are a little more grey.

The Rolling Stones, Adele, Aerosmith, Neil Young, Queen, R.E.M. and Elton John are among the other artists who have ordered Donald Trump to stop using their music. (The Associated Press)

According to The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), venues such as convention centres, arenas and hotels normally have public performance licenses, but they often exclude music used during conventions, expositions and political rallies. (Campaigns themselves can also obtain licenses, but this would require the permission of the artist.)

What's more, even if the campaign obtains the correct copyright licenses, if artists don't want their music associated with a campaign, they can take legal action claiming "Right of Publicity," which protects artists' images in many states; "False Endorsement," which argues that the use of the artist's work implies that they support the product or candidate; or the Lanham Act.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), legal liability goes up significantly if the campaign uses the song more than once. "Risk increases substantially if a campaign uses a song repeatedly (e.g., the same song is played every time a candidate enters a rally) such that it becomes known as a campaign's 'theme song,' suggesting a close association between the song and a campaign," reads an RIAA primer.

"If a candidate wants to use a particular song or recording as a theme song, it would be prudent for permission to be sought in advance."

Eleven people were murdered in Saturday's attack at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Congregation; four police officers and two other worshipers were also injured. Donald Trump is heading to Pittsburgh today.


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