Can The Donald Trump Copyright?

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Last month, Liz wrote a captivating article on how Donald Trump has licensed his own name (which is also his most valuable trade mark) in various industries, leveraging it as collateral for multi-million dollar returns. I thought I would follow suit and take another look at the Republican candidate’s IP strategy.

Trump’s Campaign Music

Turns out Trump does do things right in relation to Intellectual Property. I’m sure many of you would have seen all the headlines recently about Adele not giving Donald Trump permission to use “Rolling In the Deep” in his campaign (hilarious entrance soundtrack for someone like The Donald, I know). Most of you would say “Copyright Infringement”, right?

Wrong. As much as we like to think artists in the music industry retain control over the music they create, this is not necessarily the case in reality. Upon signing record deals, many of the intellectual property rights contained in the music is transferred from the artist to the record label or licensing agent. The extent of the rights transferred is usually down to the reputation and leverage that the artist has, but the right to broadcast the music is certainly one that is most often transferred.

Which brings us back to the question of why Trump is not infringing Adele’s copyright in “Rolling In the Deep”. Or in Steven Tyler’s “Dream On”. Or REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”. Or Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” (he played this on repeat at Trump Towers when he announced that he would be “the greatest president that God ever created”!). All these artists publicly complained about Trump using their music, and stated that they had not given him permission.

The truth is that he did not need their permission. Trump’s campaign had obtained permission from the relevant licensing agents (such as BMI or ASCAP) for the use of these songs. As a result, he does not infringe any copyrights, and as much as the artists dislike him, they can do little (legally) to stop him using the music. So it seems like he has done his homework on IP yet again.

Trump and Bald Eagles

Again, I’m sure some of you are aware of the hilarity that ensued when Trump was brave enough (barely, by the look on his face in the video clip) to allow a fully-grown bald eagle to perch on his desk for a photo shoot at Trump towers. The bird, just like Adele & co., did not take kindly to being associated with Trump and lunged aggressively at the presidential candidate.

It is ironic then that following this bald eagle fiasco in his office, Trump has been accused of copyright infringement in relation to yet another photograph of – yes – a bald eagle! The eagles certainly seem to be a major part of his campaign to “make America great again” (any meaningful policy proposals can take a backseat…).

Wendy Shattil and Robert Rozinski, two professional photographers have complained that Trump has used their iconic picture of a bald eagle extensively during his campaign without their permission. At the moment they are seeking damages in excess of £100,000.

Trump has also been threatened with copyright infringement for a video created by a fan entitled the “Trump Effect” which parodied a popular video game called Mass Effect. The “Trump Effect” used the music and voiceovers from the original game. Although Trump’s camp did not create the video, they did re-tweet it multiple times.

Intellectual Property Advice at Virtuoso

So maybe Trump is not as clued up or careful about intellectual property law as we thought! I think the moral of the story is, regardless of who you are, or how big your business (or head – in Trump’s case) is it is always best to obtain advice on IP matters. IP is one of the more complex subjects in law, and we do not want our clients to have to expend their valuable time trying to get there head round an IP issue, rather than actually running their business.

At Virtuoso Legal, we advise our clients commercially, and in a very straightforward and simple manner. We do not believe in hiding behind legalese, and we always act in the best interests of our clients. So if you have an IP issue that you are struggling to understand and need to discuss, do not hesitate to give us a call. We would be happy to help and it may save you both time and money to act early.

This article is one of many that was featured in our spring hardcopy newsletter. If you would like a copy of our hardcopy newsletter, complete with some delicious yorkshire tea, please email us your name and address.

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