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Universal disputes Hipgnosis’s Christine McVie deal statements

By | Published on Friday 13 August 2021

Universal Music Publishing

Universal Music Publishing has disputed the wording of a statement put out by the Hipgnosis Songs Fund earlier this week regarding its latest catalogue acquisition deal. That deal, you might remember, was with Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. A songwriter who – music catalogue trivia fans will be interested to know – is also published by a certain Universal Music Publishing.

So what’s going on there? Well, it’s always important to remember when considering anything to do with music copyright ownership that these things are, to use the legal term, “mind-fuckingly complicated”.

There are recording rights and there are song rights; there are mechanical rights and performing rights and sync rights; there’s an artist or songwriter’s contractural royalty rights; there’s the ‘writer’s share’ of any song right monies collected via the collective licensing system; and there’s the performer’s equitable remuneration rights on their recordings, aka the ‘neighbouring rights’.

Rights can also be sliced and diced by control or revenue or market; can be shared between people and companies; can change ownership over time; and any one music-maker’s catalogue may be split work-by-work between an assortment of labels, distributors, publishers and collecting societies, each of which might actually own the rights in any one song or recording, or simply monetise and/or administrate them.

Which means that whenever a catalogue acquisition deal is announced, a question worth asking is “well, hang on there for one tiny second, what exactly is being acquired in this damn deal?”

Actually, it’s usually best not to ask that question, because the answer will often give you a headache. Though – perhaps aware that it has investors who [a] really want to know what’s been acquired and [b] have an ample supply of paracetamol – Hipgnosis often provides quite a lot of detail about what specific rights have been acquired with each of its deals.

It’s the detail and the specifics that Hipgnosis included in its announcement of the McVie deal that Universal has seemingly taken issue with, perhaps because that statement also talked up the music rights firm’s now quite extensive involvement with and interest in the Fleetwood Mac catalogue, thanks to both the new McVie deal and its previous deal with Lindsey Buckingham. And Universal also likes to talk about its involvement with Fleetwood Mac via its past deals with McVie.

According to Variety, it was Hipgnosis’s talk of acquiring 100% of McVie’s catalogue that seemingly irked Universal. Not that that statement was incorrect, just possibly confusing. Because, while it is true that Hipgnosis has acquired 100% of McVie’s interest in her catalogue, that doesn’t mean it has acquired 100% of the catalogue itself, because Universal already owns elements of it.

In a statement to Variety, the Universal music publishing company stated: “UMPG owns and exclusively administers the global copyrights of the vast majority of Christine McVie’s catalogue. 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”.

Responding, Hipgnosis founder and boss Merck Mercuriadis clarified thus: “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, please consider all that now 100% clarified. To conclude, we’re talking about music copyright ownership here, and that’s always “mind-fuckingly complicated”.