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Aretha Franklin denied remuneration due to copyright law

Written by Mekael Rahman on 07 September 2018

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The late Aretha Franklin’s signature song, Respect, was a prominent female empowerment anthem of the late 1960s. However, even though the song has been played on American radio stations millions of times, she was not remunerated for her work. The renowned artist recently passed away at the age of 76 and her fans celebrated the song once more, using it as a theme for the women’s rights movement.

In the music industry, Respect has played an important role when it comes to copyright issues; according to advocates, it exemplifies the concern of artists like Franklin who are denied fair royalty payments. In accordance with certain provisions of copyright law and much to the dismay of the record business, American radio stations are only obliged to pay the writers and publishers of a song, not the performing artists. Respect was written and originally released by the late Otis Redding in 1965 and his estate is paid every time the song is played on the radio. Mitch Glazier, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing the major labels, has aptly articulated that “[s]ome recordings more clearly highlight the inequity of the laws, and ‘Respect’ is one of the best examples”.

Redding’s daughter, Karla Redding-Andrews is in favour of changing the law covering pre-1972 songs. Moreover, Jeff Jampol, who manages Redding’s estate has stated that “[t]he record business has a long history of treating artists like chattel slavery. We’ve grown out of those dark ages a bit, but when it comes to actually paying them fairly, that is the last needle to move.”

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