There is something inherently dishonest and just plain rotten in a politician’s use of a song without the permission of the artist or band.
The Trump campaign seems to have an affinity for this. The guy has only run for office twice, and he has managed to antagonize a long list of bands and musicians. Here is a list.
The problem didn’t start with Trump. The above commentary, based on a very good New York Times article by Ben Sisario, explains why it is not easy to get politicians to stop. Perhaps the two most famous instances of song appropriation — Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” — had the extra dimension of inverting the writer’s meaning. Both are critical of the U.S. A good rock beat is more important than the lyrics, apparently.
The video of kd lang’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah” — which was used multiple times at the Republican National Convention despite Cohen’s estate request that it not be — is the background in the commentary above. The bottom line is that despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to make sense for a musician or band to be unable to simply tell a candidate not to use their song, the situation is nuanced and far from settled in law.
“Hallelujah” was used above without sound due to YouTube rules. The full song is below, with the audio magically restored. It is from the broadcast of the 2006 Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony and is an early example of the song’s uncanny ability to elicit great performances. Cohen is there (though he was inducted 15 years earlier) and there is a physically awkward but nice moment between the two at the end.