Giving insight into why the struggle over Michael Jackson's estate may have been so fierce, Deeann D. Mathews, copyright consultant and author of The Freedom Guide for Music Creators, reveals a secret to the value of the estate of the late "King of Pop" -- recapture rights.
Most musicians believe that once they assign their copyright to a publishing company, they give up control for all time. But U.S. Copyright law includes a provision in which a songwriter or their heirs can "recapture," or regain full administrative control of their songs. Mathews says, "35 years after your work has been published, or 40 years after you've assigned your work to a publisher if publication has not happened, a five-year period begins in which you or your heirs can demand full control of your copyrights back. There is nothing a publisher can do but give you what you want, if you do it right."
The only catch: You must formalize your demand in writing two years before you want your song back. In other words, the latest you could file your demand is the 38th year after your work has been published, or the 43rd year after your work went to a publisher but was not published.
In the case of Michael Jackson, many of his early solo hits are now in the recapture period, including "Got to Be There" (1972) and "Ben." (1972). Jackson 5 hits in the recapture period include "Sugar Daddy" (1972), and the huge hit "Dancing Machine" (1973, re-released as a single in 1974). Next year, the Jackson 5's "All I Do is Think of You" and the solo "Take Me Back" will enter the recapture period (both released in 1975, 34 years ago). In five years, Jackson's hit "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (1979) will enter the recapture period, and in eight years, everything on Jackson's mega-hit album Thriller (1982) will also enter the recapture period.
"The control of millions of not billions of dollars in assets would go from the music industry back to Jackson's heirs if they were to pursue these rights," says Mathews. "The takeaway for every musician should be this: you also can exercise similar control. If you're not happy with what your publisher is doing, or if you are happy but you think you can do better, get those letters of demand ready for that 35th year."
Deeann D. Mathews, award-winning composer, copyright consultant and author of The Freedom Guide for Music Creators, has helped a number of songwriters register and protect their copyrights, researched copyright status for songs in major projects, and educated music students on the basics of the music industry. For more information, visit Mathews' "Music Business a Go-Go" site at http://www.squidoo.com/freedomguide