From Taylor Swift to Prince ... these music acts were not happy
Early career decisions sometimes come back to haunt even the biggest of pop stars -- and contract negotiations certainly rank among some of the biggest regrets.
Getting signed to a major record label can often help to launch a budding musician's career but some hitmakers have come to look at those early contracts as mistakes.
Issues with who owns the master recordings have become hot topics with many of pop's biggest acts complaining about not making informed decisions when it came to the rights to their original work. And some, including Taylor Swift, have gone to war in an attempt to gain back ownership.
Here's what these musicians had to say about fighting for their music…
Taylor Swift was just a teenager when she signed with Big Machine Label Group, recording her first six albums with them. Shortly after she left the label in late 2018, it was acquired by Scooter Braun's Ithaca Holdings for $300 million, essentially giving him ownership of Taylor’s earliest recordings.
In an explosive blog post, Taylor wrote that Scooter’s ownership of her catalog was her "worst case scenario" after facing "incessant, manipulative bullying" from him for years. She also called out BMLG for allowing the sale of her music -- despite the fact that she said she had been trying to own her music for years. Taylor claimed that when she had tried to acquire her catalog, BMLG told her that she would need to sign a new contract that exchanged ownership of one of her old albums each time a new one was released.
"When I left my masters in Scott's hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words 'Scooter Braun' escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever," Taylor wrote.
Taylor has since decided to rerecord her first six albums, effectively resulting in new masters that she'll own.
Like Taylor Swift, JoJo was very young when she signed her first record deal with Blackground Records. After the success of her first two albums, JoJo worked to release a third but she claims her label made it impossible. JoJo has claimed Blackground Records not only prevented her from releasing further music, the company also refused to let her out of her contract for years. Then in 2014, she finally walked away due to a loophole that nullifies any agreement signed by a minor after a seven-year waiting period.
JoJo went on to sign with Atlantic Records and release her first album in a decade. Although she was free from her first contract, she still didn't have control over her original music. She eventually decided to rerecord her first two albums after hearing requests from fans.
"Being tied up in the lawsuit and feeling like nothing in my career was in my control, I really lost my way. I lost the connection to my voice, literally and metaphorically. I lost agency over my own career and my history. Re-recording these songs reminded me of the path that I was on with my first album and that sassy, confident, young individual that I was," JoJo wrote in a piece for Billboard.
Before Prince's passing, he was an advocate for artists to own the masters to their music and even encouraged young artists to not sign record deals. Prince signed his first deal with Warner Music in 1977 when he was just 18. As he rose to fame, he created Paisley Park Records where he released his albums alongside Warner.
In the '90s, he had a public falling out with the label as he tried to regain control over his name and his music. He famously performed on stage with the word "slave" written on his face and later attempted to change his name to get out of his contract. Prince finally opted to get out of his deal with Warner by fulfilling the terms of his contract -- and released several albums in rapid succession.
While he was able to regain control of future records at the time, it wasn't until 2014 that he regained control over his earliest releases. He signed a contract stating he would release two new albums with the label in exchange for his early masters.
In the early days of The Beatles' career, the members of the group all owned a small percentage of their music as a part of publishing company Northern Songs. When the majority-owner Dick James sold his portion of the company in 1969, ATV Music took control of the catalog -- even though Paul McCartneyand John Lennon had attempted to buy the share.
The Beatles' catalog changed hands again in 1985 when ATV's catalog was purchased by Michael Jackson for $47.5 million. It gave the musician ownership of nearly 250 Beatles songs. A decade later, Michael sold half of ATV to Sony for approximately $100 million. In 2006, Sony purchased 50% of Michael's remaining share, giving them 75% ownership of the catalog.
After Michael's passing, Sony purchased his remaining ownership for $750 million, allowing them to become the sole owner of the Beatles catalog as well as Sony/ATV's 750,000 songs. Finally, in 2017 Paul filed a lawsuit in the hopes of regaining control of some of the band's earliest releases under the US Copyright Act of 1976, which allows artists to reclaim publishers' share of works released before 1978 after a 56-year period. The two parties eventually settled outside of court.
After spending years trying to get a record deal, Iggy Azalea says she couldn't have been more excited when she finally was released from her deal with Island Records in November 2018. Moving forward, Iggy worked to make sure any further deal would allow her to control her masters -- and that’s exactly what happened. Later that year, she signed a deal worth $2.7 million that would allow her to keep control of her songs.
"Proud to say I literally just signed my new deal/partnership!" shetweeted. "2.7mil, can sign others, own my masters + 100% independent – I'm feeling like such a bossy grown ass bitch today! Time to get back to ME. I'm so grateful & excited…Cheers!"
When Lil Kim left Atlantic Records in 2008, she hoped to gain more control of her music and masters. She decided to partner up with hip hop production duo Trackmasters, with the goal of being treated like an "equal partner." Unfortunately, she claims that didn't happen.
"We were in court for months…months! And the situation dragged out for a year in a half! When people was like 'where is the music?' I couldn't really do anything. I was under court restrictions and if I did anything I would end up back in court. So there you have it, I could not make any albums, I couldn’t make any music. I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything with my music. I couldn't really make any money period until that situation was settled," she shared.
Thankfully, they were able to settle and while it doesn't seem as though Kim has control over her earliest releases, she will be able to control her career going forward.
7. Duran Duran
In 2014, Duran Duran attempted to gain control over the masters of some of their earliest and most famous releases. The band filed notices to terminate copyright agreements in the US on their albums "Duran Duran," "Rio," and "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" due to a copyright law that gives songwriters "an inalienable right" to call for a reversion of copyright after 35 years.
Their publisher Sony/ATV decided to take the group to court, challenging the US copyright law "under the premise of a contractual technicality in the UK." The company argued that the original publishing agreement was made subject to British law and reverted US copyrights back to the UK publishing company. That meant the band's songs would be subject to the UK's copyright terms, which is the artist's life plus 70 years.
Ultimately, the judge ruled against Duran Duran and the band expressed disappointment and shock that they would not be able to take control of their own music.
"We signed a publishing agreement as unsuspecting teenagers, over three decades ago, when just starting out and when we knew no better. Today, we are told that language in that agreement allows our long-time publishers, Sony/ATV, to override our statutory rights under US law. This gives wealthy publishing companies carte blanche to take advantage of the songwriters who built their fortune over many years, and strips songwriters of their right to rebalance this reward," the band said in a statement.