Aretha Franklin may have demanded a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in her 1967 smash hit, but without the passage of a Congressional Bill to federally protect recordings released prior to 1972, her signature song may not get the respect it deserves.
The Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures Act, or RESPECT Act, was a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. George Holding (R-NC) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) last May in response to the fact that songs recorded prior to February 15, 1972, have very limited protections under current U.S. copyright law. The bill died after being sent to languish in a committee until the 113th Congress adjourned, though it has the potential to rear back with the advent of the 114th Congress.
What does this mean for digital streaming service? Well, currently, streaming services - most notably Pandora - can play pre-1972 music with virtually no royalties to their artists. The passage of this bill would cause the expenses of Pandora, Sirius XM Radio, and others to exacerbate - some speculate this could spell an untimely demise for these streaming services in general.
"In order for these artists to receive the respect they deserve, their recordings need to be granted full federal protection. Full federalization would allow these artists to recapture the rights to their songs, many of which are extremely valuable, from their record labels, and exploit the full range of rights given to the owner of a copyrighted work," says a column by Griffin Davis in the Music Business Journal.
Although the rights of these artists are not protected federally, artists have relied on state laws to protect their craft from exploitation. A lawsuit by the members of the Turtles band (known best for the song "Happy Together") filed against Sirius XM resulted in a victory for the band, assuring that its members will be paid for covers of its pre-1972 performances. Though Sirius XM will undoubtedly appeal, if the court's decision is upheld than this can establish a sweeping precedent for other artists.
"As we move forward it is important to remember that these artists deserve more than a stopgap, they deserve respect, and protection that is equitable to that given to those who came after them," writes Berklee College of Music's Music Business Journal.
Before reading about this bill, I never knew that some of my favorite artists - the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and yes, my girl Aretha Franklin - weren't afforded the same rights as contemporary musicians. Though the RESPECT Act means that streaming services will have to shoulder considerably heftier costs, I find that the fact that a loophole renders some music ineligible for federal protection absolutely ludicrous.
These are the artists that paved the way for future musicians, and their work has withstood the test of time even in the digital age. The RESPECT Act ensures that all artists from the golden oldies are afforded with just that: respect. And, just as important, royalties.
Artist Progress, Pre-1972. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.thembj.org/2014/10/masters-pre-1972/