It’s pretty weird when you think about it: when you hear “I Will Always Love You” performed by Whitney Houston on AM/FM radio in the US, neither the Houston estate nor her label get paid. But songwriter Dolly Parton does receive compensation, along with her publisher. We love Dolly a ton, but this seems unfair. That’s because it is.
Things look much different in the rest of the world, where performers, labels, songwriters and publishers ALL get paid for radio play. Consider how certain genres of music—like jazz and r&b—are powered by performances. “Respect,” belted out by Aretha Franklin. “My Favorite Things” as interpreted by the great John Coltrane. Yet due to a weird loophole in US law that exempts radio stations from paying performers or labels, countless American artists have been unable to collect money owed to them for airplay here and abroad. The problem is particularly acute for performers who aren’t in a position to tour, such as older, so-called “legacy” artists. When it comes down to it, the lack of a public performance right for over-the-air broadcasting amounts to the government giving away music to the rest of the world for free.