Sony/ATV Publishing: a Library With Over 2 Million Songs
We have seen tons of posts linking the latest articles related Paul McCartney on his way to get the copyrights of his Beatles songs back. This news together with Sony purchasing the Michael Jackson Estate 50% shares in Sony/ATV Catalog created great confusion among MJ fans and thanks to misinformed blogs, we have the usual mess. Pro-estate fans claiming the Estate made the right choice to sell Michael’s 50% stakes and many others claiming the opposite.We believe education and knowledge’s good combination to form an objective opinion. It helps not to fall into the trap of the multi-side factions existing in the MJ community.
What you will read here below it’s not the gospel or the truth about Michael Jackson – we have already plenty of blogs claiming it – is just a simple explanation of how the term of copyright works, having as example the ongoing Sony/Estate acquisition.
Currently, the term of copyright in UNITED STATES – which do not represent the whole planet but just one of Earth’s countries – is the life of the author plus 70 years, unless the work is a work for hire.
The work for hire describe a copyright when a corporation hires someone to create a work within their scope of employment, or if the work falls in one of nine categories of types of works that could be considered a work for hire. If that happens, then the corporation, not the creator of the work, is considered the author of the work. And the corporation will own the work for 95 years.
Coming back to the current term of copyright for authors, is life plus 70 years.
If you have more than one author, that 70 year period doesn’t run until the death of the last surviving author. The 70 year period doesn’t start to run until after the last surviving author passes. So when he passes, that 70 year period will run, which means that his estate, along with other author estate, would own the copyrights in all of those songs for additional 70 years after the death of the last one.
The copyright is one of the most valuable assets in the music industry but each country has its own copyright law. And those laws might be different from the laws of the United States.
In 1972, Congress created a new type of copyright, the Sound Recording. This is the specific business of SONY/ATV publishing Catalog.
The sound recording copyright has to be differentiated from the copyright in the composition which is called the Performing Arts Registration, or a PA registration, which protects just the basic music and the lyrics of a song.
The sound recording copyright protects the fixation of sounds that make up a recording of the composition. The fixation of sound, of course, is going to include all of the various instruments, all of the vocals, all of the mixing that’s done to create that specific recording.
The Congress wanted to make sure that record companies and artists were protected from other people making exact duplicates of those actual recordings.
Publishers actually exploit the music, exploit the songs, and try to get the songs used in as many ways as possible in order to generate income.
Usually the owners of the rights in the composition are the songwriters and the publishers. Artists assign their rights and do have rights in sound recordings, because when they’re creating that work in the studio, the inflections in their voice is a creative work and the whole process is a creative work.
The sound recording copyright also allows protecting not only the fixation of sounds on that particular recording, but it also enables you to protect any artwork that’s on the CD or album, or any liner notes, the entire package.
Now, having cleared this concept on how is working the exploitation of the sound recording, it will come immediately clear why Quincy Jones filed a lawsuit against the Michael Jackson’s Estate seeking millions of dollars in royalties over projects that were released after MJ death.
Quincy Jones is claiming that the way Michael’s work was used in the This Is It film and soundtrack album, as well as the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil productions and the 25th anniversary edition of Bad, involve a breach of contract. Sony Music Entertainment is also involved in the claim, together with the parent company of Jackson’s label, Epic Records.
Specifically, “the producer claims that master recordings of songs he worked on were remixed and edited in order to deprive him of profits that he would have been entitled to under agreements he signed with Jackson in the 1970s and 1980s. He says that under the contracts, he should have been given the first opportunity to re-edit or re-mix any of the master recordings and that he was entitled to producer credit for the master recordings, as well as additional compensation if the masters were remixed. (Rollingstone October 26, 2013)
Also, it will become clearly understandable why Sony have been sued for same problems and products by The American Federation of Musicians.
If you do not remember we are happy to summarize for you the matter:
Sony Music Entertainment has been sued by AFM for allegedly violating its contract in the Michael Jackson documentary “This Is It.” The suit, filed in federal court in New York, alleges that the artists were misled to record work for “This Is It” with the understanding that they were working on a phonographic record instead of a film score. he suit also charges Sony with refusing to make new payments on Pitbull’s 2012 version of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and sampling of Jackson songs like “Billie Jean” and “Man in the Mirror” in “This Is It.” “We did not want to go to court, but Sony repeatedly refused to do the right thing and pay the musicians fairly,” AFM International President Ray said. The AFM is seeking breach of contract damages, including the payment of wages and benefits that should have been given to musicians. “Musicians have joined together to create industry standards and it is simply unacceptable for greedy corporations to knowingly violate those standards by denying residuals.” added Hair. (Variety July 8, 2015)
Both lawsuits show how Michael Jackson and the original artists who contributed to the original fixation of the sound of the songs realized and played in the above records HAVE BEEN CHEATED.
Precisely, what it needs to be understood is that the above tricky actions of Sony deprived Michael Catalog MJJAC of a congruous amount of money directly involving revenues and returns profits of his sound recording copyright, leaving the company only with royalties from the Performing Arts Registration Copyright (PA).
In 1976, Congress amended the Copyright Act to include a brand new right that would be of benefit to songwriters and artists. This right gave authors of works created after 1978 the rights to recapture the transfer and assignments of those copyright entries 35 years after the original assignment.
In today’s market, most publishers offer songwriters what are called co-publishing and administration deals, where the publishers take care of all of the administrative aspects of exploiting the composition on behalf of the songwriters, in exchange for receiving 25% of the income. Record companies usually pay royalties of 13% to 16% for the sale of the recordings, and usually 50% for any other use of the recordings.
At the beginning of 2013, a number of songwriters and artists reclaimed and recaptured their copyright interests that they transferred back in 1978. As a result, now they can receive 100% of the income, instead of giving up 25% to the publisher, or 84% to 87% to the record company, or the 50% that they normally give up to record companies for other types of uses.
It has been confirmed by various sources that McCartney filed a termination notice of 32 songs with the U.S. Copyright Office and has filed termination notices for his songs that were issued on Beatles records from 1962-1964, including the 1969 and 1970 songs and seven other songs on the Abbey Road album and others. Most of the songs carry a termination date in 2025. That mean that up to that date ATV/Sony will continue to take his percentage of the sound recording copyright (SR) on those songs and McCartney have always had full copyright revenue from the Performing Arts Registration (PA)
To be precise the Act applies only to the McCartney half of the Lennon/McCartney songs as eligible for termination, and only for the U.S., “Sony/ATV still owns [those] Beatles songs in the rest of the world.”
The 2009 deal they cut with Lennon widow Yoko Ono prior to the reversion dates has enabled them to retain its publisher’s share for the life of the copyright, which lasts for 70 years after the author’s death but having their co-writers, the countdown begins after the last author dies.
Originally ATV Catalog contained about 250 Beatles songs and even if Sir Paul McCartney filed to terminate Sony/ATV’s US publishing rights to 170 Beatles songs in total, a company which is one of the largest music publisher in the world, with a library of over 2 million songs under its administration and constantly in search of new acquisitions, the loss of these songs rights in the US market only, were already been budgeted years before and absorbed without negative effects.
“Sony made a wonderful deal for Sony/ATV and even half of the Lennon-McCartney publishing for the world excluding the U.S. is not chump change by any measure”.(Billboard 3/18/2016)
The unclear story of Neverland Ranch and now the selling of Michael’s SONY/ATV catalog shares, which was his greatest asset and most valuable prize for which he died for, sounds like the executors are willing to dismantle Michael’s legacy piece by piece.
Sources: (copyright.gov kellogglaw.com)
Are Michael Jackson fans well informed on the facts when clapping their hands to John Branca & Co stating he made the right move in the interest of MJ heirs?
As well as some bloggers implying that The Michael Jackson Estate have been somehow “forced” to sell its 50% stakes because of a Buy-sell clause?
We are glad to open discussions.