The classic Motown song “Money (That’s What I Want)” has generated millions of dollars in royalties since it was first recorded in 1959.
It’s appeared in countless movies, and been covered by John Lennon, Iggy Pop and Waylon Jennings among many others.
But a quirk of American copyright law may have cheated songwriter Barrett Strong out of most of it, The New York Times’ Larry Rohter reports.
Mr. Strong’s predicament illustrates a little-known oddity in the American copyright system, one that record and music publishing companies have not hesitated to exploit. The United States Copyright Office, a division of the Library of Congress, does not notify authors of changes in registrations, and until recently the only way to check on any alterations was to go to Washington and visit the archives personally.
Strong got the original credit for the song in 1959, but was removed by Motown Records executives three years later. He was restored in 1987 when the copyright was renewed, but his name was literally scratched out the following year, Rohter says.
Motown chief Berry Gordy argues the statute of limitations for Strong to pursue his copyright claim has passed.
But the U.S. Copyright Office does not notify authors of changes to royalty registrations, and Strong says he’s been duped:
“For 50 years, I had no idea about any of this,” Mr. Strong, 72, said in an interview here, in which he acknowledged his lack of business acumen. “It was hidden from me. So how do they expect me to have acted to protect myself? It’s crazy and unfair.”