You may remember that Queen — the British rock band best known for its openly bisexual (and unapologetically fabulous) frontman Freddie Mercury — was upset after the homophobic and xenophobic Republicans ended their Klan rally with one of Queen’s most popular songs, “We Are the Champions”. Since the RNC had paid Queen’s music licensing company a boatload to play it (and other) songs, we said that Queen wouldn’t be able to sue; and we were right. But they WERE able to stop the haters from using their music anyway — RAWK!!!
When it first happened, comedian John Oliver covered Trump’s unauthorized use of music at his campaign events. Apparently, conservatives have a long history of pissing off musicians for using their music.
What we didn’t realize was that the licensing company (a type of company commonly referred as a Performance Rights Organization or PRO) had a special clause allowing Queen and other artists to opt-out of use by specific campaigns. Forbes explains:
“After Queen’s complaint, its PRO, BMI, decided to utilize its Political Entities license clause. “As a way to protect our affiliates, the BMI Political Entities license has a provision that permits BMI to exclude any musical work from the license at the request of a BMI songwriter or publisher,” says BMI’s SVP of licensing Mike Steinberg. ‘Once the songwriter or publisher voices an objection to BMI, we alert the campaign that we have removed the song from the license.’
Last week, BMI sent letters to the Trump campaign and to the RNC, detailing Queen’s objections and asked them to sign its Political Entities license. By doing so, they acknowledge that Queen’s music is no longer part of BMI’s blanket license and the campaign can no longer use it.
Forbes adds that it’s unclear what will happen if the RNC continues to play Queen’s music. They could get dragged into court, but bands have NEVER sued a political campaign as most artists don’t want to spend thousands in legal costs litigating something that only lasted a few minutes.
All the same, Vincent Candilora, Executive Vice President of American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP, another PRO) told Forbes, “We strongly encourage campaigns, especially if they plan to use popular songs as theme songs for a candidate, it would be in their own best interest to obtain permission, to avoid negative media coverage and to minimize the risk of violating other laws.”
So it looks like Queen has won for now. THEY are the champions, and it’s especially nice seeing as Freddie Mercury was an HIV-positive queer from a Muslim country — y’know, precisely the sort of people that the RNC hates.
Rock on, Freddie and company. Rock on.