Rosanne Cash speaks to Mason law students about music, intellectual property


Acclaimed Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, author and advocate Rosanne Cash spoke with students at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School during an online intellectual property conference held on Sept. 10.

Cash was the keynote speaker for the three-day Evolving Music Ecosystem conference, hosted by the school’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP). She spoke on artistic copyrights, fair pay and support for artists, First Amendment rights, artist struggles during the pandemic, the artistic process, and memories of her father, Johnny Cash.

A screenshot of Rosanne Cash who spoke over Zoom
Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash speaks with Mason law students over Zoom about music and intellectual property.

“Having the chance to listen to Ms. Cash share her insight regarding the music industry was a unique opportunity and a great experience,” said second-year law student Austin Shaffer. “She really put things into perspective by talking through her own personal music ecosystem and how many people are working behind the scenes to create the product that ultimately reaches consumers.”

“I never look at it as being all about me,” Cash said. “It’s about providing work for each other in this ecosystem.”

Sandra Aistars, director of copyright research and policy at CPIP, moderated the Q&A session. She said she hopes attendees recognize the value creative ecosystems bring to the community and that they’ll work to foster those ecosystems for everyone’s benefit.

“Mason students in multiple disciplines can learn from [Cash’s] experiences as a creator, business person and policy advocate,” Aistars said. “Her writing practices, whether applied to lyrics or prose, can teach us all to be ruthless editors of our own work; and the discipline, dedication and fearlessness she lives her life with is worth modeling at any stage in one’s career.”

“Musicians are in a service industry,” Cash said. “We service the heart and the soul.”

Rosanne Cash playing guitar.
Rosanne Cash strums her custom Martin guitar for Mason students during the keynote session.

“Songs are really critical right now,” she added, noting that music that seems complex or includes unexpected lyrics serves a purpose. “This is what art is about, partly to make you uncomfortable, and make you think, but also to arouse your feelings.”

Cash also recognizes her role as an advocate for fellow artists.

“I consider myself part of a chain of what came before and the next generation of musicians,” Cash said, expressing her concern for supporting legacy artists and those just starting out.

Students said hearing from Cash was an experience they will not forget.

“[Cash] really reaffirmed my decision to study law and be an advocate for these exact issues,” second-year law student J. David Ward said.

“Since the pandemic has tremendously changed the economic and creative landscape for many artists, it was important to hear from a real artist about the struggles artists are going through and how we can all support the artistic community,” said LLM student Yumi Oda.

The entire conference has been worthwhile, the students agreed.

“Each panelist is a well-respected expert that provides invaluable insight into the topic at hand,” Shaffer said. “The fact that Scalia Law offers these types of opportunities is one that I don’t take for granted.”

Rosanne Cash and Sandra Aistars.
From left to right: Rosanne Cash, Sandra Aistars.

*This conference continued a dialogue on music ecosystems begun by CPIP Executive Director Sean O’Connor while at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. In its inaugural year in the Washington, D.C. area, the conference aimed to bring together musicians, music fans, lawyers, artist advocates, business leaders, government policymakers, and anyone interested in supporting thriving music ecosystems in the United States and beyond. The conference is also a companion to The Oxford Handbook on Music Law and Policy, which is edited by O’Connor.