Sony ATV, the famous music-publishing catalog that Michael Jackson bought in 1985 and used for decades as a financial lifeline, will soon be sold in full to the late singer’s estate — or the estate may sell its own half back to Sony Corp. The technology giant will “either become 100 percent owner or divest,” a source close to the deal tells Rolling Stone, adding that Sony reps will soon meet with Jackson’s estate reps to work out the terms. The company has begun what is known as a “buy-sell process,” with one source saying that “this is just the first step” for the company.
The catalog, which owns publishing rights for 750,000 songs, including tracks by the Beatles, Taylor Swift, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye and many others, is worth an estimated $2 billion. It has been a 50-50 venture between Sony and Jackson since 1995, when the King of Pop agreed to merge his share with Sony’s music-publishing catalog. In 2007, an auditor said Jackson’s half of the catalog was worth $390 million — providing crucial assets for the big-spending superstar during a period when he was releasing almost no new music or making money off concert tours.
Reps for Jackson’s estate declined to comment.
Jackson had been deeply in debt in 2006 when he agreed to give Sony an option to buy his half of the catalog at some later date. Sony exercised that option sometime last month. “The structure of a joint venture is sometimes difficult to manage,” the source says.
Company reps would not comment, but leaked Sony documents last year suggest execs were dubious of its potential in a time of low digital-music revenues. Kenichro Yoshida, Sony’s chief financial officer, said in a statement last year that Sony ATV “has a rather complex capital and governance structure and is impacted by the market shift to streaming.”
The Beatles lost control of much of their publishing in the Sixties after a series of complicated business deals. When Jackson bought the catalog, for $47.5 million, Paul McCartney unsuccessfully bid against him. “The key thing to remember today is don’t sell your catalogue,” Marshall Gelfand, Jackson’s accountant, told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “The whole explosion of music videos and the trend toward using more music in movies is going to make copyrights even more valuable. If you are an established artist today, you should only consider selling your catalogue as a last resort to raise cash.”