Perhaps unsurprisingly, Donald Trump's grand entrance to the Republican National Convention on Monday has copped flack on social media, but was it lawful?

The New Zealand Copyright Act 1994, protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works.  In music, two distinct copyrights subsist: one in the sound recording (i.e. the recorded performance), and the other in the underlying musical composition (i.e. the actual work being performed). As owners of these copyrights, musicians and recording studios have certain exclusive rights in respect of their music, including:

  • the right to perform their music in public
  • the right to communicate their music to the public
  • the right to reproduce their music

Doing any of these things without a licence from the rights holder will generally amount to copyright infringement. Indeed, Queen claims that Trump's use was unauthorised.

But it seems that Trump might be on the right side of the law here. Because it is difficult and inefficient to obtain permission directly from songwriters and recording studios, there's a need for intermediaries to grant the necessary licences. These outfits are known as performing rights organisations (PROs). It is possible that the venue that hosted the Republican National Convention had purchased rights to play songs from the relevant PRO, in which case no permission directly from Queen would be necessary. 

Generally speaking, if you want to use music in a commercial, business or any other public setting, you need permission from the copyright owner. The easiest way to do this is through a PRO, but even with a blanket licence, it’s still a good idea to comply with the copyright owner's requests so as to avoid negative press.