Step 1: Campaign plays song at event
Step 2: Musician objects to his or her song being played
Step 3: Campaign says it got the proper licenses to play the song
Step 4: Regardless, campaign says fine, it'll stop playing the song
Step 5: Internet slideshows about "Politicians Scolded By Musicians Over Song Use" where you have to see an ad every three clicks are updated, and stories that included a sentence beginning, "This is far from the first time..." are published
Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5 as needed until Election Day
But what if step 4 was disregarded? What if a politician X was like, "You know what, I don't care what musician Y thinks; we're going to keep playing that song. Louder, even. We're going to blast it, on repeat, from Iowa to New Hampshire until I'm elected President of these United States!?"
Despite the fact politicians usually stop playing songs when asked, they could fight it if they really wanted to. According to the ASCAP guidelines on using music in political campaigns, if campaigns obtain a public performance license from them or other performing rights organizations like BMI, they're in compliance with copyright law, which is why campaigns always first respond to statements from angry musicians by saying they were following the rules.
But being in compliance with copyright rules doesn't mean musicians can't complain and even take legal action -- which is why the ASCAP advises campaigns get permission from artists' management and songwriters as well, to avoid all this.
Per the ASCAP, musicians could seek recourse through their right to publicity (which public figures have for their image in some states), false endorsement (an argument that their work is being used to incorrectly imply support for something) or the Lanham Act (dealing with unauthorized use of a trademark leading to confusion). So there are legal grounds for them to fight the song's use.
But there's not much precedent for that happening, because campaigns generally give in to musician's demands so quickly.
This all creates the "perception of legal advantage" for musicians, the Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner wrote -- but a perception that might not be accurate. If Trump and Young went to court, Trump could win if, say, a judge found copyright law preempted Young's right to publicity or Trump's use of "Rockin' In The Free World" didn't make anyone think Young endorsed his candidacy.
The reason politicians never fight these sorts of things is because they're a distraction. Who wants to go through all that when you can just as easily use a song from a musician who won't give you a hard time about it. Rather than sticking to their talking points on the campaign trail and cable news, they'd be talking about their fight against rock stars. And as long and drawn-out as presidential campaigns feel, they actually take less time than the legal system can, and candidates could find themselves in court long after dropping out of the race/Election Day.
But they could if they wanted to. And maybe Trump is just the guy to press the issue. It could be his one great political contribution to this country.