As Houston’s song plays, Dolly Parton benefits

A shopper browses CDs featuring the music of pop diva Whitney Houston. The late singer's music has been all over radio and TV following her death. But her estate only profits when someone actually goes to iTunes or Amazon or a record store and physically buys her albums.

Jeremy Hobson: Mourners will gather in New Jersey this weekend for Whitney Houston's funeral. Ever since her death, Houston's crystal-clear rendition of "I Will Always Love You" has been everywhere. But most of the money that goes along with heavy radio play and strong sales of that song isn't going to Houston's estate.

Marketplace's Heidi Moore reports.


Whitney Houston: And I will always love you...

Heidi Moore: Whitney Houston's soaring voice made that song a huge hit... for Dolly Parton. The country singer wrote it and gets 8 cents every time it's on the radio. "I Will Always Love You" is an example of how the music industry works. Whitney's performance may be famous, but the songwriting is where the real fortune is made.

Greg Gulia is a copyright lawyer at the law firm Duane Morris. He says this happens all the time. Take Carole King.

Greg Gulia: James Taylor recorded Carole King's "You've Got a Friend." They were actually friends, so they discussed it.

Houston's estate will still make money from album sales. Dolly Parton's estate will still make money no matter what. Todd Brabec with BMG Chrysalis Publishing has handled the royalties for the estates of Irving Berlin, Jim Morrison, and Tupac Shakur.

Todd Brabec: The death of a creator, whether it's an artist or a writer, does not stop the royalties.

It turns out music is immortal -- not just artistically, but financially.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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