Rosanne Cash Speaks Out On Music Licensing

Jun 26, 2014
Originally published on June 26, 2014 1:49 pm

Rosanne Cash, musician and daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash, is urging Congress to do more to protect intellectual property rights in the digital age.

She testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee yesterday in support of the Respect Act, which would compensate artists for digital performances of songs recorded before 1972. Right now, there is no federal copyright protection for those recordings.

She also spoke out in support of the Songwriter Equity Act, which she says would set up a fairer system for compensating songwriters when their work is used by others.

Cash tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, “one streaming service, they streamed 600,000 streams of one of my songs and I got paid $114.”

Interview Highlights

On the radio business model

“That argument about promotional value, ‘well you know, you get exposure by them playing you on the radio,’ it just doesn’t fly, because want control of our copyrights. There is no other business model that could take your property, use it to sell ads for themselves and make billions of dollars, and then say, ‘well, it’s okay because we’re giving you exposure by doing it.’ There’s no other model that exists for that except songs and radio.”

On digital streaming services

“That is one of the building blocks because the future is digital services. There are things that have to be addressed in digital services too … Records that were recorded before 1972, there’s no royalty paid to the artist for those songs. And these streaming sites, there aren’t fair rates set for how they pay artists for streaming their songs.”

On inequality in the music industry

“The generation that’s growing up thinks music should be free. I’m willing to have that conversation when artists aren’t the only ones who aren’t being paid for the music. Right now, a lot of corporations and multi-billion dollar companies make money off the music and the artists don’t see that money.”

Guest

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RING OF FIRE")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the flames went higher.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

An excuse to play this song - the late great Johnny Cash singing "Ring Of Fire." Our reason today, Johnny's daughter Rosanne testified before Congress yesterday on an issue her dad spoke to lawmakers about in 1997 - fair compensation for musicians when their work is downloaded by others.

ROSANNE CASH: I see young musicians give up their dreams every single day. Because they could not make a living doing the thing they most love, the thing they just might be on the planet to do. Musicians and artists of all kinds should be valued members of American society - compensated fairly for honest, hard work.

YOUNG: Back in 1997, Johnny Cash told the House committee that his song "Ring Of Fire" was being sold in Slovenia by an illegal website. He hoped the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would stop that. Rosanne Cash was on Capitol Hill to testify in support of two new bills before Congress. One of them is the Respect Act which would pay artists for digital performances of songs that were recorded before 1972. Aretha Franklin helped inspire this bill with her song recorded in 1967.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RESPECT")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) All I'm asking is for a little respect when you come home. Just a little bit.

YOUNG: Aretha Franklin is not paid for digital downloads of that or any other song. So in addition to paying some respect to Aretha, Rosanne Cash also spoke out in support of the Songwriter Equity Act which would establish a better system for setting fair rates for songwriters when they license their work. Rosanne joins us from the NPR studios in Washington D.C. Welcome back to HERE AND NOW.

R. CASH: Hi, Robin. Thank you.

YOUNG: So what was the main point you wanted to make to lawmakers?

R. CASH: That quote you gave from my dad about the illegal website in Slovenia, you know, I said, oh, what simpler innocent times those were in '97 - because that illegal website has morphed into this multinational juggernaut of piracy and songwriters and performers cannot get paid. Performers need a public performance right for terrestrial radio play. We don't have one. We are only one of a few countries in the world who don't pay performers for a radio performance. The other countries are Korea, Iran and China.

YOUNG: Well, but just hold on a second there. Because let's explain by terrestrial I assume you mean satellite?

R. CASH: By terrestrial I mean your good old-fashioned AM/FM radio.

YOUNG: So explain how it's supposed to work? Because I think people think that there are certain licensing fees and that stations have to pay to certain groups in order to play music. How does it work?

R. CASH: Well, the simplest explanation of that if your song is played on the radio - if you wrote the song you get paid. If you are just the performer you don't get paid.

YOUNG: And I'm guessing that, you know, back in the day performers were happy to get their work played on the radio because that sold albums. But now people don't buy albums or CDs, they download stuff.

R. CASH: That's absolutely true. And that argument about promotional value well, you know, you get exposure by them playing on the radio - it just doesn't fly because we want control of our copyrights. There is no other business model that you could say, they could take your property, use it to sell ads for themselves and make billions of dollars and then say, well it's OK because we're giving you exposure by doing it. There's no other model that exists for that except songs and radio.

YOUNG: So you're pushing for this bill for pay for play - in a different use of the phrase than it used to be - used to be about payola. You're asking that performers be paid when their music is played on the radio. But that seems like such a diminishing part of the scene right now. You know, there's all sorts of other ways that people hear music and radio, it seems like one of the smallest parts.

R. CASH: Right. And that is one of the building blocks because the future is digital services. And, you know, there are things that have to be addressed in digital services, too. The pre-'72 sound recordings, records that were recorded before 1972 - those aren't paid. There's no royalty paid to the artists for those songs. For instance, these streaming sites - there aren't fair rates set for how they pay artists for streaming their songs.

YOUNG: You have an example of one of your own songs.

R. CASH: One streaming service - they streamed 600,000 streams of one of my songs and I got paid $114. There were even worse examples cited in the hearing. So, you know, I feel bad but not as bad as some people do.

YOUNG: That's amazing. But it sounds as if you're talking to Congress about regulation. But are you also talking to your fans? We are a culture now that thinks everything should be free.

R. CASH: It's so true isn't it? And yet people say to me when I play a concert on twitter, on my website, they say, what is the right thing for us to do? We want to support you. We don't want to force you out of the business, you know. We want you to be inspired to give us more work rather than have to quit to survive somewhere else. So fans want to know, you know. And as a fan myself I download something, I pay for it, I also buy the CD just to make sure, you know. Just to vote with my dollars.

YOUNG: Well, in the meantime should the conversation also be between musicians and their fans about how maybe we have to adjust our thinking. Maybe we do have to pay more. We downloaded one of your dad's songs and it cost $1.29. Should it cost more?

R. CASH: Yeah, well, those rates being - yeah. That's one thing that will be looked at is the rates and if they're fair or not. But, you know, I've been saying that the people who say music should be free -like you just mentioned - were growing up. The culture right now - the generation that's growing up thinks music should be free. I am willing to have that conversation when artists aren't the only ones who aren't being paid for the music. Right now a lot of corporations and multibillion-dollar companies make money off the music and the artists don't see that money.

YOUNG: That's Rosanne Cash. By the way an incredibly generous person - you are in effect giving away a lot of your music. But I remember once we were in the studio with you and you had a bangle on your wrist. And I said, oh, I love that. That's beautiful. And you took it off and gave it to me.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: I still have it at my desk if you ever want it back.

R. CASH: You do?

YOUNG: Yes. If you ever want it back.

R. CASH: No.

YOUNG: So we go out on Rosanne Cash's "Etta's Tune" it's one of the new songs from her release "The River And The Thread." We'll play the song for you but then how about going out and buying it? Rosanne, thanks so much.

R. CASH: Thank you so much.

YOUNG: I did not want to take that bangle. She would not let me not take it. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.