What's Cash's 'Ring of Fire' really worth?

How do you put a price tag on a song made famous by Johnny Cash more than 40 years ago but not written by him? We wondered that when reading this story on a potential Cash (as in, first wife Vivian) vs. Carter-Cash estate courtroom showdown questioning the copyright of “Ring of Fire.” As the legend goes (and you may remember it from a pivotal Reese Witherspoon scene in the Oscar-winning 2005 film Walk the Line), June Carter wrote the song (with veteran Nashville tunesmith Merle Kilgore) for Johnny, about their burning, as-yet-unrequited love. But in I Walked the Line, a book written by the late Vivian Cash and released (posthumously) last month, Viv says Johnny told her he wrote “Ring of Fire” while on a fishing trip with Kilgore and longtime friend Curly Lewis and gave the credit to June because “she needed money” and he “felt bad for her.” To back up her claim, Lewis has since come forward recounting the fishing boat tale.

So what would be the financial ramifications if the copyright were successfully contested in court?

Huge, according to publishing executives we spoke to. “You could be
talking about a very significant amount of money, as much as $20
million,” says one music business insider, who cites that a song like
“Born to be Wild,” which is often used in commercials or films, has
earned over $35 million in its lifetime. Another puts the price tag
closer to $10 million, but points out that copyright violations are
multiplied by each use.

One person giving this some serious thought is Vivian Cash’s
widower, Dick Distin, who has retained attorney Eric Bjorgum, an
intellectual property expert at Sheldon, Mak, Rose & Anderson in
Pasadena, CA, to investigate the matter. “We’re definitely looking into
it,” Bjorgum (who does not represent any of the four Cash daughters)
tells EW.com. “But I can’t tell you right now whether we’re going to
file a complaint.” By his own estimates, there could be several million
dollars on the line. “A song like ‘Walk the Line’ was bringing in a
couple hundred thousand a year after the movie came out,” he says. “And
that’s just publishing royalties, not masters. So if you multiply that
every year going back to 1960, that’s the range for what kind of
royalties are at stake.”

We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops…

Huge, according to publishing executives we spoke to. "You could betalking about a very significant amount of money, as much as $20million," says one music business insider, who cites that a song like"Born to be Wild," which is often used in commercials or films, hasearned over $35 million in its lifetime. Another puts the price tagcloser to $10 million, but points out that copyright violations aremultiplied by each use.

One person giving this some serious thought is Vivian Cash’swidower, Dick Distin, who has retained attorney Eric Bjorgum, anintellectual property expert at Sheldon, Mak, Rose & Anderson inPasadena, CA, to investigate the matter. "We’re definitely looking intoit," Bjorgum (who does not represent any of the four Cash daughters)tells EW.com. "But I can’t tell you right now whether we’re going tofile a complaint." By his own estimates, there could be several milliondollars on the line. "A song like ‘Walk the Line’ was bringing in acouple hundred thousand a year after the movie came out," he says. "Andthat’s just publishing royalties, not masters. So if you multiply thatevery year going back to 1960, that’s the range for what kind ofroyalties are at stake."

We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops…

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