The recent passing of Aretha Franklin was sad news to fans in New York and across the world. While her first hit song “Respect” became an anthem of empowerment for women and all those seeking fair treatment, it ironically represents the inequity many pre-1972 performers experienced under intellectual property laws. While songwriters and publishers received royalties for songs each time a radio station played them, the recording artists got nothing.
Penned and recorded originally by Otis Redding, “Respect” was about a man asking his wife to show him proper esteem even if she can’t be faithful. Franklin’s version of the song not only added her unique vocal flare but it also altered the meaning to reflect a woman demanding respect from her husband in exchange for her faithfulness. However, even this originality did not earn Franklin royalties since the laws governing copyright did not include music recorded prior to the signing of the law in 1972.
Currently, the music business is seeking to rectify this oversight by working to have laws passed that will require streaming services to pay for songs recorded prior to 1972. Broadcasting associations and streaming services are understandably fighting this law, which could cost them substantially. For example, on the day Aretha Franklin died, “Respect” was streamed over 500,000 times.
Intellectual property laws continue to change as new technologies and forms of expression evolve. Those in New York who want to ensure their creative work is protected may wish to have as much information as possible. They can find the answers to their questions as well as support and advocacy from an experienced attorney.