Imagine being in a band that gets signed to a major record deal. After trials and tribulations you finally record a track that the label believes will be a hit. The only issue is that you sample another song. The orchestra you took your sample from gives you permission. Even the band that wrote the original composition is fine with you using the sample. Everything is good.
Then the song is released. You are sued by a faceless corporation that used to manage the band that gave you permission to use the sample. You lose all writing credits for your song and millions of dollars. Despite doing everything properly, millions of dollars were legally stolen from The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft who wrote Bittersweet Symphony.
What makes Ashcroft’s plight even more disconcerting is that the the passage that the Verve sampled was not written by any member of the Rolling Stones. The song he sampled was the Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s rendition of The Last Time. The passage sampled is not directly represented in the Rolling Stone version of the song.
Here’s the source material:
And the original song:
ABKCO’s actions, and the fact they won a frivolous lawsuit has paralyzed the music industry. While other genres of art laud borrowing and altering past work, ABKCO has become a pariah on the music world. No wonder the Stones left them long ago.
To put this into context, Richard Prince makes $100,000.00 for pieces of art that lift images from other peoples’ Instagram accounts without requesting permissions. That’s okay, but sampling an orchestra rendition of a song, and getting permission from said orchestra will lead to losing the rights to a multi-million dollar song? It doesn’t make sense.
ABKCO continued down this path, primarily suing black artists who significantly altered their source material, but ABKCO held management rights to said material. Their actions stagnated the growth of hip hop and other genres. Bands like the Verve who were trying to innovate and expand what rock is were bullied. Rock never recovered. Hip hop did, and is now the biggest genre in the world.
Back to Richard Ashcroft, after years of trying to get the rights to his song back for multiple years, on a podcast promoting his new record Natural Rebel (the podcast and album deserve your time), he announced that he was going to try one more time. This time, instead of going through litigation and battling ABKCO, he reached out to the Rolling Stones.
Last month, the Stones reportedly gave Ashcroft their writing credits for the song, meaning that Ashcroft now holds 25% of the publishing rights to the song he composed. It’s not the full artist percentage (which is usually around 50%), but far better than the $1000 he initially made from his song as his hard earned earnings were stolen from him. Also with that share of the artist rights, any litigation against ABKCO is more likely to succeed.
Ashcroft’s statement via Pitchfork
It gives me great pleasure to announce as of last month Mick Jagger and Keith Richards agreed to give me their share of the song Bitter Sweet Symphony. This remarkable and life affirming turn of events was made possible by a kind and magnanimous gesture from Mick and Keith, who have also agreed that they are happy for the writing credit to exclude their names and all their royalties derived from the song they will now pass to me.
I would like to thank the main players in this, my management Steve Kutner and John Kennedy, the Stones manager Joyce Smyth and Jody Klein (for actually taking the call) lastly a huge unreserved heartfelt thanks and respect to Mick and Keith.
Music is power.
This is how it was always going to be resolved. The Stones had Ashcroft perform Bittersweet Symphony at one of their concerts last year. The situation likely didn’t sit right with the band. In an industry which is slowly being controlled by more independent artists creating corporations around themselves, solutions such as this are going to become more common. Big corporations like ABKCO are making themselves obsolete. At least now Ashcroft can gain revenue from his most popular song. Sometimes a bittersweet moment can resolve itself with patience.