7 Artists Who Have Fought for Ownership of Their Music

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Taylor Swift

The “You Need to Calm Down” singer prompted a renewed debate over artists’ rights to own their musical catalogs on June 30, when she publicly denounced Scooter Braun for acquiring her masters in a $300 million sale. 

Swift, 29, who signed with Scott Borchetta’s record label Big Machine Label Group at age 15, left for Universal Music Group late last year, securing the rights to any future master recordings with UMG in the process. But those included on her first six albums remained the property of BMLG — until reports broke on June 30 that the label had been acquired by Braun’s Ithaca Holdings, essentially giving him ownership. 

In a scathing Tumblr post, the pop powerhouse detailed her frustration with the situation, explaining that she’d been trying to own her own music for years and had been told she would need to sign a new contract with BMLG that only exchanged ownership of one of her old albums for each new one she completed. 

“I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future,” she wrote. “I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past.”

Swift went on to call Braun’s ownership of her catalogue her “worst case scenario,” and accused the manager of “incessant, manipulative bullying” over the years, particularly in relation to her feud with Kanye West. 

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The late music icon dedicated much of his career to fighting for artists’ rights to their music. “Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word — slavery,” Prince told Rolling Stone in 2015. “I would tell any young artist… don’t sign.” 

After famously protesting his contract with Warner Bros. (now Warner Records) by appearing onstage with the word “slave” on his cheek and even changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol in an effort to gain ownership over his music catalog, Prince eventually did secure ownership over any future recordings following his mutual release from the label in 1996. In 2014, he managed to get his early masters back from Warner Bros. in exchange for releasing two new albums through the label, according to Billboard

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Kesha has been embroiled in a legal back-and-forth with producer Dr. Luke since 2014, when she sued him for allegedly drugging and raping her as well as for verbal, physical and emotional abuse. Luke has repeatedly denied all of the singer’s claims.

Throughout the drawn-out process, Kesha was denied her request for a preliminary injuction that would have allowed her to record music outside of her contractual obligations to Luke until the lawsuit is settled. 

“Without the Court’s intervention and Sony’s facilitation, Kesha will remain contractually bound to Dr. Luke until she releases three additional albums, each containing six songs produced individually by Dr. Luke, no matter how many years that takes,” the pop star’s lawyers wrote in an amended counterclaim, which was later refused. 

The “Praying” singer is still tied to Luke through her recording contract with his label. 

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The Beatles

The fight for ownership over the Beatles’ music catalog has truly been a “Long and Winding Road.”

Six years after the band’s debut album Please Please Me found a home with publisher Dick James and his company Northern Songs in 1963, James sold his stake in the company to ATV Music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney offered a counter bid, which they lost to ATV. 

In 1985, Michael Jackson — who’d been informed years earlier about publishing’s lucrative aspects by none other than Paul McCartney himself — bought ATV’s catalog for $47.5 million, which included nearly 250 Beatles songs in the 4000-song purchase, according to Billboard

Jackson then teamed up with Sony to form Sony/ATV Music Publishing, selling half of his ATV share to the label giant, who later bought his remaining 50 percent of the company after his death in 2009. 

After decades of drama surrounding the rights to their masters, McCartney filed a lawsuit in 2017 in hopes of regaining some of the band’s earliest works under the US Copyright Act of 1976, which allows artists to reclaim copyright from publishers after 35 years. 

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Lil’ Kim

The Brooklyn rapper left Atlantic Records in 2008, citing artistic differences and searching for more control over her music. When she then took up with hip hip production duo Trackmasters, she “was supposed to be treated as a partner,” she said during a radio interview with iPower 92.1. 

But according to Kim, things didn’t go as planned, and the duo eventually took legal action against her. “We were in court for months… months! And the situation dragged out for a year and a half!” she told the radio station.

“When people was like ‘Where is the music?’ I couldn’t really do anything. I was under court restrictions and if I did anything I would end up back in court,” she explained. “So there you have it, I could not make any albums, I couldn’t make any music. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything with my music. I couldn’t really make any money, period, until that situation was settled.”

Now, the situation is “100 percent done,” the “Crush on You” singer revealed.

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Iggy Azalea

After leaving Island Records in November 2018, the “Fancy” rapper shared on Twitter that she was “officially unsigned!” 

“Wild you spend so long trying to get IN a record deal… never thought I’d be so elated to be OUT of one,” she tweeted on Nov. 3. “Now I’m free to release whatever kinda music I like, whenever I’d like woooo!”

Things then seemed to move “in the fast lane” for Azalea, who announced just two weeks later that she had signed a new record deal worth $2.7 million, and that she would own her masters moving forwards.

“Proud to say I literally just signed my new deal/partnership!” she wrote. “2.7mil, can sign others, own my masters + 100% independent – I’m feeling like such a bossy grown ass bitch today! Time to get back to ME. I’m so grateful & excited…Cheers!”

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JoJo was thrilled when she signed a seven-album deal with Blackground Records at age 12 — until they made it impossible for her to “Leave (Get Out)” a few years down the line.

“It was a dream come true,” she told Vulture in 2015. “We were assured that the deal was very normal, and the lawyer that I was with at the time said, ‘This is a great deal, you shouldn’t look into it any deeper than what it is. You’re gonna be protected.’ We didn’t know anything,” she explained, adding that her mom “didn’t have any experience in the industry.” 

After she shot to stardom with her 2004 eponymous debut album and 2006’s The High Road, the singer began to hit repeated road blocks as the label dragged out the release of her third album indefinitely while refusing to let her out of her contract. 

“I never got a concrete explanation for what happened. There wasn’t a lot of communication, just a lot of lawyer talk at this point,” she recalled to the outlet. 

JoJo eventually released two free mixtapes in 2010 and 2012 while still battling her label, and in 2013 finally managed to break free from her contract. She promptly signed with Atlantic Records, and in 2017 left to start Clover Music, her own joint venture with Interscope which helped her achieve her “ultimate goal” of ownership over her music. 

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