The Real Slim Shady Speaks Out to Political License Loopholes

Emma AistropNews & Insights

Since the start of his political campaign in February 2023, Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy utilized the song “Lose Yourself” by rapper Eminem as an anthem for rallies across the country.[1] In one viral video, he was seen personally singing along to the song at the Iowa State Fair.[2] Less than two weeks after the release of this video, performance rights organization BMI formally ordered Ramaswamy to stop playing “Lose Yourself” via a cease and desist letter sent at Eminem’s request pursuant to BMI’s Political Entities License.[3]

The Political Entities license was implemented ten years ago and acts as a blanket license “to ensure that political entities are in compliance with copyright law where events may occur throughout the duration of their campaign.”[4] While most venues maintain venue licenses that allow for music to be played in public spaces, this license is an additional requirement where the venue is hosting an event that is political in nature.[5] In this instance, Eminem asserted his right under Paragraph 2(a) of BMI’s Political Entities License, which allows artists to limit the use of their catalog where the political candidate’s audience might falsely assume that the musician has endorsed the candidate, potentially damaging the economic value of a song’s copyright.[6]

Generally speaking, the BMI license broadens politicians’ rights to music by providing political campaigns with access to over 20 million songs that can be used at related functions and events.[7] Under this model, the candidate does not have to directly contact the artist for permission to use their music.[8]

Paragraph 2(a) acts a carveout for musicians who are concerned that a political candidate’s audience may think the musician has endorsed the candidate when their music is played in conjunction with a political campaign.[9] The clause provides that “one or more works(s)…may be excluded from this license if notice is received by BMI that such BMI songwriter(s) objects to the use of their copyrighted work(s) for the intended uses…”.[10] The clause also allows an artist to immediately withdraw their music from its repertoire and holds that “any performance…of any excluded work(s)…at any Event of Function following the receipt of such notice shall not be covered by the grant under, and shall be deemed a material breach of, this Agreement.”[11] This sort of language is not unique to BMI; competing performance rights organization ASCAP extends a similar license to specific campaigns and reserves the right to exclude songs from a particular political campaign’s license.[12] However, as a precaution, ASCAP also recommends that political campaigns seek permission from the artists directly to guarantee that they will not be asked to stop playing a song mid-way through their campaign.[13]

Controversy surrounding the use of music at political events is not unique to Eminem and Ramaswamy.[14] For example, in 2012, the singer and rapper K’Naan requested Mitt Romney’s campaign stop using his song “Wavin’ Flag” after fans complained on blogs, asking “Why did [K’Naan] give a license to Romney?”.[15] In 2008, R&B duo Sam & Dave sent a cease-and-desist letter to Barak Obama’s campaign, demanding that he stop using their song “Hold On, I’m Coming.”[16] Sam Moore of Sam & Dave followed this demand with the public statement ensuring that he did not agree to endorse a presidential candidate and that voting was “a very private matter between himself and the ballot box.”[17] In both of these instances, the artists were successful in barring the candidates from continuing use of their recordings.[18]

 While the intention behind BMI’s Political Entities License is to ensure that artists who freely license their songs to bars, stadiums, and other public spaces can protect their works from political affiliations, this was only recently clarified following a continued debate regarding whether blanket performance licenses held by venues, such as hotels, convention centers, and event spaces act as a legal loophole for campaigns to continue  using excluded works.[19] In 2018, the Trump campaign attempted to take advantage of the long-debated loophole by continuing to play Guns N’ Roses’ songs even though the artist had “formally requested” that the work not be used at future Trump rallies.[20] Guns N’ Roses front man Axel Rose took to social media to call out the Trump campaign for “using loopholes in the various venues’ blanket performance licenses which were not intended for such craven political purposes.”[21] Consequently, BMI’s executive director of corporate communications Jodie Thomas addressed this confusion and confirmed Rose’s remark in 2020, in an interview with Variety.[22] According to Thomas, “a venue license was never intended to cover political campaigns” and clarified that “a political campaign cannot and should not try to circumvent BMI’s withdrawal of musical works under its Political Entities License by attempting to rely on another license.”[23] The rules on BMI’s website specify that “a venue license does not cover events and functions hosted by political campaigns and organizations held at venues.”[24]

Political candidates typically adhere to an artist’s request to stop playing their music at campaign stops, yet, some artists have to rely on the threat of a lawsuit to further reinforce their demand.[25] Conversely, some candidates take a light-hearted approach, such as Ramaswamy, who announced that he would no longer rap to Eminem’s music on the campaign trail. His public response to BMI’s cease-and-desist is reflective of his intention to comply with Eminem’s request: “To the American people’s chagrin, we will have to leave the rapping to the real Slim Shady.”[26]


[1] Bill Donahue, Eminem Demands GOP Candidate Ramaswamy Stop Using ‘Lose Yourself’ At Campaign Stops. Billboard (Aug 28, 2023), https://www.billboard.com/business/legal/eminem-demands-vivek-ramawamy-stop-using-music-1235402309; Joshua Zitser, Vivek Ramaswamy, an ‘Anti-Woke’ Biotech Millionaire and Former Harvard Rapper Running Against Trump, is Outperforming Expectations in the 2024 GOP Race, Business Insider (Sept. 15, 2023), https://www.businessinsider.com/vivek-ramaswamy-antiwoke-entrepreneur-challenging-trump-for-president-gop-2023-2.

[2] J. Kim Murphy, Eminem Sends Vivek Ramaswamy Cease-and-Desist for Performing ‘Lose Yourself’ on Campaign Trail, Variety (Aug. 28, 2023), https://variety.com/2023/music/news/eminem-vivek-ramaswamy-cease-and-desist-lose-yourself-1235706432/.

[3] Donahue, supra note 1.

[4] Music License for Political Entities or Organizations, https://deadline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/political-entities_pol1.2019.pdf; Rolling Stones Working with BMI to Stop Trump’s Use of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ at Rallies, Reuters (June 28, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-rolling-stones-trump/rolling-stones-working-with-bmi-to-stop-trumps-use-of-you-cant-always-get-what-you-want-at-rallies-idUSKBN23Z0GQ.

[5] Music License for Political Entities or Organizations, supra note 4.

[6] Donahue, supra note 1; Claire Chalmers, Public Performance Rights…and Wrongs, CITMA (Sept 21, 2020), https://www.citma.org.uk/resources/public-performance-rights-and-wrongs-blog.html.

[7] Music Licensing for Political Entities or Organizations, BMI, https://www.bmi.com/licensing/entry/political (last visited Sept. 20, 2023).

[8] Donahue, supra note 1.

[9] Brock Koller, Eminem vs. Vivek: Cease-and-Desist Letter Adds to History of Musician-Politician Battles, Straight Arrow News (Aug. 31, 2023), https://san.com/cc/eminem-vs-vivek-cease-and-desist-letter-adds-to-history-of-musician-politician-battles/.

[10] Music License for Political Entities or Organizations, supra note 4.

[11] Id.

[12] ASCAP, Using Music in Political Campaigns: What you should know, https://www.ascap.com/~/media/files/pdf/advocacy-legislation/political_campaign.pdf.

[13] Id; Koller, supra note 9.

[14] Koller, supra note 9.

[15] David Greenwald, K’naan Blasts Romney for Using ‘Wavin’ Flag,’ Billboard (Feb. 1, 2012), https://www.billboard.com/music/music-news/knaan-blasts-romney-for-using-wavin-flag-508224; Joel Rose, Music In Political Campaigns 101, NPR (Feb 29, 2012), https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2012/02/29/147592568/music-in-political-campaigns-101.

[16] Koller, supra note 9.

[17] Id.

[18] Amy Oliver, Now Romney’s in Trouble After Using Rapper K’Naan’s Song Without Permission, Daily Mail (Feb. 2, 2012), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2095362/Rapper-KNaan-threatens-legal-action-Mitt-Romney-uses-song-Wavin-Flag.html; Koller, supra note 9.

[19] Donahue, supra note 1.

[20] Clémence Michallon, Axl Rose Says ‘Loopholes’ Allows Trump to Use Guns N’ Roses Music at Rallies Despite Band’s Protests, Independent (Nov 5, 2018), https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/axl-rose-guns-n-roses-donald-trump-music-rallies-loophole-band-a8619371.html.

[21] Id.

[22] Murphy, supra note 2.

[23] Id.

[24] Music Licensing for Political Entities or Organizations, supra note 7.

[25] Morgan Gstalter, Neil Young sues Trump Campaign for Playing Songs at Rallies, The Hill (Aug. 4, 2020), https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/510503-neil-young-to-sue-trump-campaign-for-playing-songs-at-rallies/.

[26] Victor Nava, Vivek Ramaswamy to ‘Leave the Rapping to the Real Slim Shady’ After Eminem Licenser’s Cease-and-Desist Letter, NY Post (Aug. 29, 2023), https://nypost.com/2023/08/29/vivek-ramaswamy-to-leave-the-rapping-to-the-real-slim-shady-after-eminem-licensers-cease-and-desist-letter/.