Taking as an example the Bob Dylan album released in 1962 by Columbia, how likely is it that the fees for covering famous folk songs were paid and that original authors actually received the fees?

For instance, the record opens with You're No Good, which is a cover by Jesse Fuller, who was still an active musician at the time. As Jesse Fuller was under contract for a different label (apparently, Good Time Jazz and Arhoolie), I'm guessing that Columbia did not owned the right and should have paid a royalty fee to Jesse Fuller.

I am aware that (quoting https://www.jstor.org/stable/4500298 )

The exploitation of black artists [was c]ommon practices in the record industry

but I'm curious about whenever a "shift" of paying what was due had already started when Bob Dylan made his debuts -- and so, how likely it is that there was no copyright infringement when this first record was released.


Performing rights societies like ASCAP and BMI had been operating since the early twentieth century. Assuming that Jesse Fuller wrote "You're No Good" and that either he had registered the copyright or his record label had done this for him, then Columbia would have had to pay royalties to ASCAP/BMI who would then pay Fuller. The same goes for any of the other songs not written by Dylan, unless they were traditional and in the public domain.

  • Thanks for your answer. While I agree that this is the way the money "should" have circulated, there are many occasions on which this was not the case. According to this article, for instance, Charles Gallaher and Cameron Lippard wrote in their book “Race & Racism in the United States: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic.” that "Ahmet Ertegen, the founder of Atlantic Records, remembered having a conversation with a Columbia Records executive who said the company never paid its black artists royalties." – Clément Dec 15 '20 at 1:43
  • 1
    @Clément You are talking about two different kinds of royalties: the royalties that labels would have to pay to their artists for the recording, and the royalties that are due to a composer/texter when another musician uses their composition. – PiedPiper Dec 15 '20 at 8:49
  • You are correct, and thanks for pointing that out. However, I don't think neither was paid to the black artists Ahmet Ertegen was referring to. – Clément Dec 15 '20 at 14:16
  • @Clément furthermore, the Columbia executive may have meant that the company always "negotiated" contracts with black performers that provided for no royalty payments, which is immoral and unethical but not illegal. – phoog Dec 20 '20 at 20:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.