It’s gonna be a long, long time before we see a crazier story.
President Donald Trump made no secret of his affection for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as the two negotiated a nuclear weapons agreement last month.
But now the relationship between the two world leaders has a distinct musical component.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with North Korean officials this week, and Pompeo brought Kim a special gift from Trump: a CD of Elton John’s 1972 song “Rocket Man,” signed by Trump.
Of course, the president famously referred to Kim as “Little Rocket Man” early in his presidency. But what started as an insult quickly became a term of endearment.
At their Singapore summit last month, Trump asked Kim if he knew the song that inspired his nickname. Kim said no, which led to the gift of a signed CD and a personal letter from Trump.
It’s certainly absurd that a British pop star has become a focal point of American diplomacy. And if the internet hordes had their way, Trump would be on the yellow brick road to court
Some people on Twitter speculated the gift to Kim could count as a copyright violation, especially since Trump signed something he didn’t actually create.
But surprisingly, this isn’t actually the case.
The United States Copyright Act of 1976 applies to all created works, including recordings. Composers retain all the rights to the music and lyrics of their work.
But once the CD ends up in stores, rights transfer to the consumer thanks to the concept of “first sale doctrine.”
“An individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner,” the law reads.
In other words: “As long as the CD was purchased legally, Donald Trump can do whatever he wants with it,” music copyright lawyer Marc Ostrow told Observer.
And yes, that even includes signing the CD and giving it to a foreign dictator.
John’s representatives have not responded to Observer requests for comment about the gift to Kim.
It’s frankly surprising that Trump didn’t violate music copyright in this case, since such violations have been commonplace since the beginning of his presidential campaign.
Trump used songs by REM, Queen, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Luciano Pavarotti and the composers of Les Misérables without permission at campaign rallies until each one of these musicians (or their estates) forced him to stop.
John himself also got embroiled in this controversy, because Trump used “Rocket Man” at campaign events even before the Kim saga.
While John stopped short of suing Trump, he made clear that his music shouldn’t play a role in the president’s rise.
“I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign,” John said at the time. “I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me. It’s nothing personal. His political views are his own, mine are very different. I’m not a Republican in a million years.”
Historically, John hasn’t had much patience for copyright violations—especially when he was accused of them himself.
In 2012, composer Gary Hobbs claimed that John had stolen the lyrics for his 1985 song “Nikita” from Hobbs’ 1982 composition “Natasha” without consent.
The incredibly vague lawsuit claimed John had copied the phrase “I need you,” along with the words “just” and “never.”
Of course, those lyrics are in just about every love song—so John and his writing partner Bernie Taupin called the lawsuit “baseless and absurd.” It was soon dismissed.