How Michael Jack­son’smomma be­came a mu­sic in­dus­try mogul

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

As Michael Jack­son’s will is untangled thread by thread – and will prob­a­bly end up in the ap­peal court for years to come – a lot of peo­ple are get­ting very jumpy about what all this means for The Bea­tles.

Jack­son owns the pub­lish­ing rights to the vast ma­jor­ity of The Bea­tles’ songs. Ev­ery time Paul McCart­ney plays Hey Jude live, he has to pay Jack­son, or now the Jack­son es­tate. It was one of the few sen­si­ble de­ci­sions taken by Jack­son to buy up th­ese pub­lish­ing rights for $47.5 mil­lion in 1985: they are now con­ser­va­tively worth $1.2 bil­lion.

Th­ese rights gen­er­ate mil­lions each year – any­time a Bea­tles song is played, bought or per­formed, a

pay­ment has to be made. And there will be a mas­sive rush of money into the Jack­son es­tate later this year when The Bea­tles: Rock Band game is re­leased on Septem­ber 9th. On pre-or­ders alone, this video game has bro­ken all known records.

Few artists own their own pub­lish­ing rights, and The Bea­tles were no ex­cep­tion. When the band signed their first record deal, they gave the rights (in ex­change for a cash ad­vance) to the North­ern Songs com­pany. The songs were sold on to As­so­ci­ated Tele­vi­sion Cor­po­ra­tion (ATV) in 1969. They didn’t be­come avail­able again un­til 1985, when the en­tire ATV mu­sic cat­a­logue was sold. This cat­a­logue in­cludes not just The Bea­tles, but also songs by Elvis Pres­ley and Bob Dy­lan.

Paul McCart­ney and Yoko Ono bid about $40 mil­lion to buy the ATV cat­a­logue, but Jack­son gazumped them with his of­fer. McCart­ney and Jack­son, once very good friends, never spoke again – McCart­ney viewed Jack­son’s ac­tions as a “be­trayal”.

A few years ago Jack­son had to “mort­gage” half of the pub­lish­ing rights to his la­bel, Sony, be­cause he was broke due to ex­pen­sive court cases and a high-rolling life­style. Sony now owns this 50 per cent in a com­pli­cated ar­range­ment that saw Jack­son merge his pub­lish­ing rights with those of Sony. It is be­lieved that Jack­son had also mort­gaged out bits of his own 50 per cent stake to banks in ex­change for a large loan.

The big player now is Jack­son’s mother, Katherine Jack­son, who was named as the ben­e­fi­ciary in the will. The sit­u­a­tion as it stands is that Katherine Jack­son (and a board of ad­vis­ers) will look at just how much debt Michael left. Even if the fig­ure reaches $500 mil­lion (as has been sug­gested), that is man­age­able. More than that and she may have no choice but to sell the 50 per cent to clear the debts.

Wait­ing in the wings is Sony, of course, which nat­u­rally would love to own the en­tire 100 per cent, but also, in­trigu­ingly, McCart­ney, Ono, Ringo Starr and Olivia Har­ri­son (who are now legally The Bea­tles).

It is one of the big­gest re­grets of McCart­ney’s busi­ness life that he didn’t out­bid Jack­son back in 1985 (what­ever about their colos­sal fi­nan­cial worth, he has a strong emo­tional at­tach­ment to the cat­a­logue) and the com­bined wealth of all four Bea­tles would mean a very ro­bust bid. But Sony has deep pock­ets as well. And all par­ties con­cerned are well aware of the in­evitable fi­nan­cial wind­fall from the release of the Rock Band game in Septem­ber.

In a tragi-comic turn, Jack­son has had the last laugh. Since his death, sales of his al­bums have gone through the roof. There is a huge amount of money be­ing gen­er­ated for his es­tate at the mo­ment (he has mul­ti­ple al­bums in top-10 charts around the world). And when all the pre­vi­ously un­re­leased Jack­son ma­te­rial is pack­aged up and shipped out, that fig­ure will swell even more. This money should clear the debts and ob­vi­ate the need to sell on the 50 per cent.

The 79-year-old Katherine Jack­son has sud­denly be­come a very ma­jor player in the mu­sic busi­ness.

Michael Jack­son with his mother Katherine

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