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Hipgnosis’s Christine McVie deal exposes publishing tensions


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Is Hipgnosis ruffling the feathers of the industry’s biggest publishers, or are they simply keen to ensure people understand the intricacies of shared rights ownership? Or, indeed, a little bit of both.

Variety reported yesterday on some of the public statements around Hipgnosis’s acquisition earlier this week of a song catalogue belonging to Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie. The issue is the wording in the Hipgnosis announcement, which may (in Universal Music Publishing Group’s eyes) have led people to believe that the company had acquired the entire catalogue of songs, rather than just her share of it.

“UMPG owns and exclusively administers the global copyrights of the vast majority of Christine McVie’s catalogue,” said UPMG in its statement. “This includes, and is not limited to, McVie’s composition shares on the albums ‘Fleetwood Mac,’ ‘Rumors,’ ‘Tusk,’ ‘Mirage,’ ‘Tango in the Night’ and more.”

In response, Hipgnosis boss Merck Mercuriadis told Variety that “They own their share and we own ours. They may own their share of some songs and we own our share, plus the writer’s share and the neighbouring rights.” So that’s all settled then.

Well, up to a point. The companies eagerly acquiring music catalogues in 2021 are talking a lot about their ability to make the most of those catalogues, whether through more and better sync deals; capitalising on new platforms like TikTok, and more. For publishing catalogues where the ownership is shared, cooperation is going to be vital. And while it should suit everybody to make the most (in exploitation terms) of these catalogues, disagreements will be inevitable.

When those disagreements have the potential to impact the value of the catalogues, with a knock-on effect on the value of companies like Hipgnosis and thus their ability to continue challenging the publishing status quo… well, there could be some fun and frolics ahead.

Stuart Dredge

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