A $47.5M Bargain: Inside Music Publishing's Best Deal Ever [WAAMN Chapter 1.3]
Michael Jackson's purchase of the Beatles' catalog only looks better with time.
This is the weekly installment of my new book, We Are All Musicians Now. To make sure you don’t miss future serializations, subscribe here. Below you’ll find Chapter 1: The Ownership of Genius (Part 3). Enjoy!
John Branca is best known for his work as an entertainment lawyer, most notably for his decades spent representing Michael Jackson. What few know is that he, like me, is an obsessive baseball fan and card collector. Unlike me, his uncle Ralph Branca pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers (you may have seen his portrayal as Jackie Robinson’s best friend on the team in the 2013 film 42).
The younger Branca has always seen a parallel between America’s pastime and the music business.
“Artists or baseball players and other guys got totally ripped off in the early days … like my uncle, Ralph, who won 21 games and they threatened to cut his salary,” he explains. “He held out because he was smart. But they had all the leverage. As time has gone on, the leverage has shifted.”
In the 1970s, baseball star Curt Flood’s challenges to the sport’s unjust Reserve Clause—which effectively tied players to teams indefinitely—eventually ushered in the modern era of free agency in sports. It also served as part of an awakening across the entertainment spectrum after many decades of exploitation.
“In the early days, musicians were not businessmen, they were not sophisticated,” says Branca. “The people that owned the companies were businessmen. They were out to make a profit. Musicians … in some cases weren’t [even] high school grads, and they didn’t see it as a business, so they got taken advantage of.”
But there were some notable exceptions, especially as the landscape began to shift—perhaps, most famously, the King of Pop. And it went beyond retrieving the rights to his own work, a process detailed by Branca in my last installment of We Are All Musicians Now. Says Branca: “Michael, he was an artist and he was a businessman.”
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