Sheryl Crow's Congressional Testimony on Work For Hire
The following testimony is published with kind permission from the
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences
(Presented May 25, 2000, U.S.
House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Courts and
Good morning, Chairman Coble and members of the
subcommittee. My name is Sheryl Crow and I am a recording artist. On behalf of
my fellow artists, I wish to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing
today so that we may express our concerns with the work for hire amendment.
I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge those artists who have come to
Washington to attend this hearing. I am also accompanied by letters from artists
unable to attend the hearing today but who would like to have their voices
I am here today to ask the subcommittee to repeal the work for hire
amendment and to restore to recording artists our rights as authors of our work.
As you are aware, the designation of a sound recording as a work made for hire
has severe implications for recording artists. The most serious consequence is
that featured artists are no longer considered the author of the sound recording
and thus are denied the right of termination under the Copyright Act, a right
granted to other authors. This surely can't be what Congress intended.
any of you sat in on a recording session, you would see that the artist featured
on a sound recording functions as the author of the work. Without the creative
contribution of the featured artist, there would be no sound recording. To
legislate that the record label should be recognized and credited as the
"author" of the sound recording undermines the framers' intent of the
Constitution and goes against my good Midwestern common sense. I am the author
and creator of my work.
I am extremely grateful to be in the position of
being in a line of work I so love. As the committee deliberates this important
issue, I think it might be helpful if I describe the process by which I and
other music artists author our sound recordings, for the journey begins long
before the recording contract is signed.
Music has been a part of my life
for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a small town called Kennett,
Missouri, about a hundred miles from Memphis. My mother, who still teaches piano
and my father, a lawyer and trumpet player, raised me to appreciate all kinds of
music and to never fear the challenge of pursuing my dreams of becoming a
musician. I went on to study music at the University of Missouri, where I
received my degree in piano performance and music education.
music in the St. Louis school system, I began playing in local bands. I also
began working in a local studio as a jingle singer for commercials. Before I
obtained my recording contract, I worked as a background singer, side musician,
and wrote songs that were recorded by other artists. After many years of writing
my own songs and playing any place that would have me, I finally was offered a
recording contract. As you can see, the creative work that goes into making a
first album begins long before the record contract is ever obtained.
I am a recording artist and not commissioned by a recording company to provide a
specified work, (as in the case of the 18th century composer, Handel and his
wonderful composition, The Messiah, which was instructed to be written by the
high courts), I am basically left to my own devices when it comes to creating a
work that best represents what it is I am trying to express in my work and in my
life. I figure out what songs I want to record. In almost all instances, I write
or co-write my own material, however, I have been known to record the odd Bob
Although songwriting can be the most rewarding part of the
process, it can also be extremely time consuming in what is always a demanding
schedule of appearances, concerts, and other work. A song can take hours,
months, sometimes years to write and the demo process, in which the basic sketch
of the song is recorded, often precedes the actual recording process.
artists who do not write their own songs, there is a similar process of
collecting songs from songwriters that the artists would like to record. Artists
may look at over a hundred songs before choosing the ten or fifteen that inspire
Continuing on with my process, next there is pre-production. After I
have composed the songs that will appear on the recording, I try to define how I
want the album to sound. In my own process, I envision the album as a movie,
with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. I try to bring a look and a feel to
the recording that will take the listener on a journey. Because I produce my own
records, I am basically the captain of the ship and ultimately, the
decision-maker, I must also decide what musicians I want to perform on each
song, given the desired sound I want to attain, what engineering staff to
implement my sonic vision, what studio will be appropriate, (in my situation, I
own my recording equipment which is set up in my home studio), and how much
money I want to spend. The cost is very important because I pay for the
recording of my own albums and a portion of the marketing out of my royalties.
The third stage is the actual production. This part of the process is
perhaps the most difficult but also the most exciting. This is where I translate
my vision for my music into a quality recording. To accomplish this, I
communicate with and direct the engineer and the musicians. (In the case of an
artist who does not produce himself, he will have hired a producer to facilitate
the process of capturing his vision, as the artists, on the recording. The
producer would have been chosen with the artist's vision in mind and follows the
creative lead of the artists.) The studio schedule tends to be rigorous because
the cost of record-making is high. It's not unusual for me to work eighteen-hour
days to stay within the budget.
The fourth stage of the recording process is
post-production. Once the songs are recorded and mixed, I choose what songs will
be included on the album and what the album will be titled. I then deliver the
master tapes, completed, fully edited, and ready for manufacturing.
been argued that the work for hire amendment was necessary to clarify who is the
author of the sound recording. There is no confusion in the record industry as
to who creates the sound recording. It is the featured artists. A sound
recording is the final result of the creative vision, expression and execution
of one person-the featured artist. And, although the artist may respect the fine
folks' opinion at the record label and may even solicit advice from them, they
are, by no means, involved in the process of defining the music. Furthermore,
any claims to the authorship by producers, hired musicians, background singers,
engineers would be false.
Comparisons, with regard to the work for hire
amendment, have been made to motion pictures where it's necessary to treat films
as work made for hire to avoid confusion over the issue or authorship. The
record business is different than the film industry in a very fundamental way:
financing. In the film industry, the studio pays the production costs. The
creative collaborators for a movie-the writer, director and performers-are
generally not responsible for the costs of the production and receive fees from
the studio for their contribution. They are hired by the film company to get the
desired film made and once completed, the studio owns the film. The costs of the
production are never charged back to the creative contributors.
recording artist, I do not receive a fee for making an album. I may receive an
advance to cover the costs of the recording process, which I am responsible for
paying back in full. The costs are deducted from and or recouped from my share
of royalties. I do not receive a dime from the sale of my albums until I have
paid for all costs incurred during production. I pay for the record-not the
In short, the sound recording artist is not only the author, but is
also the person in charge of all facts of production, up to the point of
distribution. We give the record labels our work to exploit for 35 years. Like
other authors, we should be able to reclaim our work as Congress intended.
In Timothy White's most eloquent article in the May 20 issue of Billboard
magazine, Mr. White states, "It's a small change in terms of the number of words
in the statute, but it's a very big change by potential implications when the
heirs of recording artists discover they don't have a legacy they might have
enjoyed....Noah Webster, the father of American copyright, felt it was so
compelling to protect his work against contemporary and future claims that he
rode from state to state to plead his case for copyright.
In conclusion, Mr.
Chairman and distinguished committee members, I ask that you repeal the work for
hire amendment and allow recording artists to negotiate with the recording
industry to reach an agreement that is fair to all. Thank you.