I’ve been following this story for several years. The major record companies, with the connivance of the union representing the performers (AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), failed to pay into the artists’ pension fund. This came to public attention when some of the great R&B performers of the 1960’s went to retire and found they would get either nothing or very little from the AFTRA pension plan, which was supposed to be administering the funds. Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave, found out that from 1965 through 1992, Atlantic Records had contributed exactly nothing towards his pension, and he was entitled to only $64 per month. Jackie Wilson and Mary Wells died in poverty and without health insurance. In 1994, Moore, with Lester Chambers (Chambers Brothers), Curtis Mayfield, Wilson’s estate, and others, brought suit against the RIAA and the record companies. USA Today had an update a couple of months ago. The suit is still going on, ten years later.
Also, the recording industry had been holding on to about $50 million in royalties owed to artists they could not find, and so could not pay. The missing artists included David Bowie, Dave Matthews, and Sean Combs. NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer persuaded them to try harder.
I was reminded of this when I read this story about the RIAA suing another 744 people for file sharing, along with about 4,000 others in the past year. This is the sort of thing that gives capitalism a bad name.
The RIAA website has an anti-piracy statement with this noble sentiment:
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the creative artists lose. Musicians, singers, songwriters and producers don’t get the royalties and fees they’ve earned.
It’s nice to know they care.