Often when people decide to create an estate plan, their first thought is about who they want to leave their assets to rather than how to pass on what they own. However, the type of asset you are leaving can determine how your plan may take shape. One extreme example of this is how musical artists are handling the disposition of their song catalogues.
The top aging artists of the day have begun to sell their song catalogues. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, and Paul Simon are just a few examples. Upon first hearing the news, it struck me as very odd and I also thought that if for some reason Bruce Springsteen knew who I was, I would very much like to own the rights to “Thunder Road.” Many would think that a musician would be planning to hand-down their legacy through their music to future generations. However, the complexities surrounding the management of copyrights for such iconic musical catalogues has driven many popular musicians in a different direction.
So the question remains, why would an artist sell their musical catalogue? First, it seems that the artists do not want their heirs to be left with what they consider messy assets. While you may think it could be neat to own classics such as “Thunder Road” or “Blowin in the Wind”, there are difficulties that come along with owning musical copyrights that you may not think of right off the bat. The main difficulty is the fact that such large and iconic musical catalogues must be actively managed. Every use of the song must be negotiated. Despite the songs already being well-known, the songs must be promoted to different companies for them to use. And even beyond that, there are the potential legal issues that arise surrounding copyright infringement. It is a massive undertaking for someone who may not know much about the industry, and it is still a lot to manage even for a professional.
The other motivation behind artists selling their songs before they pass is control. When an artist is the one negotiating and making the deal with the media conglomerates, they can maintain control over how their songs will be used in the future, at least to some extent. They are able to stipulate how they wish their songs to be used within the contracts that are created. While this tactic is important for the artist to consider during lifetime, it can also be used after the artist passes away. The estate can form the same type of contracts. They may even work in-tandem with the media companies that buy the song copyrights, meaning that often the media company must get approval from the estate before they can use the song.
Now I know that most people do not have huge musical catalogues worth millions of dollars. However, you probably still have assets that are complicated to handle, require special planning, or hold deep sentimental value to you. It is critical to meet with an Estate Planning Attorney to develop the plan that is right for you and your assets.
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