There’s tone deaf, and then there’s playing “Happy” at a campaign rally hours after 11 people were killed while praying.
And yet, that’s what Donald Trump did Saturday in Indiana.
Pharrell is not having it.
His attorney Howard King writes in a cease-and-desist letter to Trump: “On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played (Pharrell’s) song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana. 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.”
Further, King writes that Pharrell did not, has not and will not give Trump permission to use the song or to any other piece of his music and states that this particular use of “Happy” is both copyright and trademark infringement.
Of course, other politicians have used musicians’ work without their permission before, usually during campaign events. Trump alone received letters or angry statements from Steven Tyler, Prince’s estate, REM, Queen and others for using their music during his events. (He could just use Ted Nugent or Kid Rock songs, as both are notable pals of his and were on hand for the signing of the Music Modernization Act a few weeks ago.)
Trump used the song at a rally in support of Rep. Mike Bost, up for re-election next week in the hotly contested and closely watched midterm elections.
As noted by the Future of Music Coalition, the Trump team could shrug their shoulders and say the use of a song at a rally constitutes fair use.
“It’s very unlikely that simply using a song to soundtrack a rally would quality as fair use,” FMC says. “Such a use would require a license. In addition to legal considerations, there are ethical issues to examine. Seeking to avoid embarrassing controversy, most politicians stop using music when an artist asks them to, even if they feel legally entitled.”
It’s possible that Pharrell and his team have a stronger case to pursue against Trump than other artists who have either sent cease-and-desist letters or filed a claim against politicians in the past, FMC says.
On Saturday morning, 11 people in three congregations were participating in services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The man responsible, Robert Bowers, had a social media profile filled with anti-Semitic statements and vitriol, accounts which have since been removed by their respective platforms.