A Decades Old Question: Who Really Owns The Music?

Taylor Swift-jpg.comTaylor Swift had a squabble last year regarding permission to perform the artist’s own material during concerts. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogarty still does not own the tracks he recorded for the Fantasy Records label. In 2008, the Universal Music Group fire raised questions surrounding the ownership of songs and entire catalogs of music. But in the music industry, none of this is new.

On Feb. 27, 2020, Swift released “The Man,” from the mega-star’s 2019 album, Lover. During the song’s accompanying video, look closely for the “No Scooters” sign, a reference to Swift’s ongoing vendetta with record company executive Scooter Braun. Ithaca Holdings, Braun’s company, acquired the rights and full control to the dynamite blonde’s first six albums. As a result, bad blood ensued. Swift was allegedly told not to perform the songs from these albums as it would be considered re-recording the tracks without permission. Eventually the “Shake It Off” singer was given authorization to perform the songs at last year’s American Music Awards show. But as evidence by “The Man,” the feud continues. Taylor Swift is not alone.

Though guitarist and CCR frontman John Fogarty left the band 48 years ago, the “Green River” rocker still does not have the ability to manage his own material attributable to a dispute with the Fantasy Records label. Fantasy is where Creedence had the band’s biggest hits. According to a published report by Ultimate Classic Rock, due to the US Copyright Act of 1976, the multi-instrumental songwriter will perhaps regain control in 2025, when he turns 80. Apparently a mutual release from Fantasy was not an option. No, not even legendary Beatle Paul McCartney is immune to record company ownership complications. Only after a 56 year wait, a lawsuit and negotiation did Sir Paul recover control of the old Beatle songs through a settlement. And that is with all of McCartney’s fame and fortune. But the scenarios about musicians losing control of The Beatles-jpg.comtheir own material can occur in different ways.

In what has become known as the Universal Music Fire, a number of best-selling artists’ recordings, including original masters, were destroyed during the 2008 California blaze. Affected musicians include Sheryl Crow, Nirvana, Suzanne Vega, Soundgarden, Elton John, Peter Frampton and others. The identities and nature of the losses were not initially known before a New York Times June 2019 investigatory piece. On Feb. 1, 2020, a Rolling Stone Magazine article indicates UMG maintains 19 artists were affected, which is down from 17,000 as first reported. Billboard has pointed out the question “Who owns the masters?” The issue of ownership strikes again.

Despite ambiguity in ownership through the years and perhaps a bailee’s care, custody and control interest, the success and power of popular and influential songs cannot be taken away by legal wrangling and contracts. Therein lays the real power of music.

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Paul Wolfle-jpg.comPaul Wolfle, the publisher of musicinterviewmagazine.com, is a web-based journalist who has written for several popular sites. Paul has a passion for connecting with a diversity of musicians who are looking to grow a positive presence on the World Wide Web.

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