How Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ Became a Battle Cry for Musicians Seeking Royalties
which was Aretha Franklin’s first No. 1 hit, the cry of empowerment which has defined her for generations: “Respect.”
yet for the roughly seven million times the song has been played on American radio stations, she was paid nothing.
When Ms. Franklin died on Thursday at age 76, fans celebrated the song all over again as a theme for the women’s rights movement. yet inside music industry, “Respect” has also played a symbolic role in a long fight over copyright issues which, advocates say, have deprived artists like Ms. Franklin of fair royalty payments.
Under an aspect of copyright law which has long irked the record business, American radio stations pay only the writers along with publishers of a song, not the artists who perform them. “Respect” was written by Otis Redding, who sang which as a man’s demand for recognition by his wife. Ms. Franklin turned the song upside down — or right-side up — along with took which to heights Mr. Redding never dreamed of.
yet every time the song will be played on the radio, Mr. Redding’s estate — he died in a 1967 plane crash — has been paid. Ms. Franklin never was.
Efforts to change the law go back decades, with “Respect” often held up by the music industry as Exhibit A for why which was unfair. yet broadcasters, a powerful lobbying group, have successfully argued which performers already benefit by the promotion they receive by radio play.
“Some recordings more clearly highlight the inequity of the laws, along with ‘Respect’ will be one of the best examples,” said Mitch Glazier, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing the major labels.
In recent years, “Respect” has also become a battle song in a fight over digital rights. Laws passed inside 1990s let performing artists collect royalties by internet along with satellite radio, yet songs were exempt if they were recorded before a change in federal copyright law took effect in 1972.
A 2014 bill to change which was named the Respect Act in honor of the song, which Ms. Franklin recorded in 1967. A lobbying campaign was titled “which’s a Matter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” with Ms. Franklin’s approval. along using a current bill in Congress, the Music Modernization Act, could force digital radio services to pay royalties for songs recorded before 1972.
yet as the bill has encountered opposition inside Senate, Ms. Franklin has again become a face for musicians’ anger.
After Sirius XM announced a tribute to Ms. Franklin on Thursday, David Lowery of the band Cracker, an outspoken artists’ rights advocate, protested on Twitter.
“Best way to pay RESPECT?” he wrote. “Pay her!”
The satellite service Sirius XM agreed in a settlement three years ago to pay record labels more than $0 million for its use of songs created before 1972, along with to enter into completely new licensing deals, which could benefit performers like Ms. Franklin. yet which has opposed the bill because which exempts terrestrial radio by the payments.
”Respect” entered Ms. Franklin’s repertoire at a pivotal moment in her career, as she was leaving Columbia Records for Atlantic, where she became a national star. Mr. Redding’s “Respect” had reached No. 4 on the R&B chart in late 1965.
“I liked his edition,” Ms. Franklin told The Washington Post in 1987. “Of course, I felt I could bring something completely new to which.”
According to David Ritz’s biography “Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin,” the song was already part of her live show by 1966. inside book, the producer Jerry Wexler recounts a conversation with Ted White, Ms. Franklin’s husband along with manager at the time. Mr. Wexler was looking for songs for Ms. Franklin, along with was fine with “Respect” as long as she “adjustments which up by the original.”
“You don’t gotta worry about which, Wex,” Mr. White replied, according to the book. “She adjustments which up all right.”
Ms. Franklin made modest yet crucial adjustments to the lyrics. Where Mr. Redding sang, “Do me wrong, honey, if you wanna / You can do me wrong, honey, while I’m gone,” for example, Ms. Franklin sang: “I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone / Ain’t gonna do you wrong ‘cause I don’t wanna.”
She also added what became the song’s signature line: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what which means to me.”
Ms. Franklin’s reinvention of Mr. Redding’s song has continued to fascinate critics. Peter Guralnick, the author of books like “Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm along with Blues along with the Southern Dream of Freedom,” noted which she transformed the original meaning “not so much by changing the lyrics, as by the feeling which she imparted on the song — in order which ‘Respect’ became a proclamation of freedom, a proclamation of feminism, a proclamation of an independent spirit.”
While the song has been used as a P.R. weapon inside industry’s policy wars, Ms. Franklin usually remained uninvolved. The song was lucrative for her in different ways, including record sales along with concerts. In an interview on Friday, Mr. Ritz said he was not aware of any opinion which she had about royalties for “Respect,” yet said which “she felt exploited” by the industry in general.
The Universal Music Publishing Group, which controls Mr. Redding’s songwriting copyright, declined to say how much the song has earned. yet the licensing agency BMI said which “Respect” had been played 7.4 million times on commercial radio stations inside United States since which was released.
Barry Massarsky, an economist who specializes in valuing music catalogs, estimated which over the last a few years alone, “Respect” has earned about $500,000, about 40 percent of which by commercial radio along with the rest by television along with streaming services.
For streaming services like Spotify, their use of songs, old or completely new, will be covered by licensing deals which do generally benefit performers like Ms. Franklin. Those services have seen a surge in interest in her music since her death: “Respect” was streamed on Apple Music more than half a million times worldwide on Thursday, the service said.
A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents radio stations, declined to comment. yet the organization has long opposed proposals to create a royalty for performing artists. A document on the organization’s website says which such completely new royalties “could reduce the variety of music radio stations play, along with all yet eliminate the possibility of completely new artists breaking onto the scene.”
Mr. Redding’s heirs may profit by the song, yet his estate — including his daughter, Karla Redding-Andrews — has supported changing the law covering pre-1972 songs.
Jeff Jampol, who manages the estate, said which for artists like Ms. Franklin along with Mr. Redding, unfair financial treatment was built into the fabric of their early careers, along with the music industry has not fully made amends.
“The record business includes a long history of treating artists like chattel slavery,” Mr. Jampol said. “We’ve grown out of those dark ages a bit, yet when which comes to actually paying them fairly, which will be the last needle to move.”
Matthew Haag contributed reporting along with Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
Follow Ben Sisario on Twitter: @sisario.