A white-nationalist group called Stormfront has been unlawfully using Johnny Cash’s recording of “Won’t Back Down” as a theme song for a weekday radio show, and the deceased artist’s label has let them know that that is entirely not happening. As NPR reports, Universal Music Group (UMG) and American Recordings sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rense Radio Network (which does not have any actual autonomous broadcasting facilities, instead sending material out via websites and YouTube) and Stormfront founder Don Black. In the document, UMG and American assert that neither has “licensed, granted permission, or otherwise authorized either Rense Radio Network or Mr. Black.” Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said he believes they were within the boundaries of copyright fair use for “Won’t Back Down,” but that would have required Black and Stormfront to be using the song with a “transformative purpose.” In other words, they would have to be “commenting upon, criticizing or parodying a copyrighted work, and using a copyrighted work as theme music is not in itself necessarily a comment, criticism or parody.” Using something as your intro music doesn’t really serve any of those legal purposes, so Black is most likely wrong.
While the KKK alum used all-too-predictable anti-Semitic language to explain who was responsible for the cease-and-desist letter, Cash’s actual family recently renounced the appearance of Johnny’s likeness at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a man wore a shirt with the singer’s face on it. “Johnny Cash was a man whose heart beat with the rhythm of love and social justice,” the Cash siblings wrote in an open letter posted to Facebook. “He would be horrified at even a casual use of his name or image for an idea or a cause founded in persecution and hatred … We ask that the Cash name be kept far away from destructive and hateful ideology.” Stormfront has since replaced the song with “The South Shall Rise Again” by Johnny Rebel, which honestly should have been their theme music this entire time.