2019 American Music Awards

Sly Stone Sells US Publishing Catalog to Michael Jackson Estate

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Sly & The Family Stone photographed in 1968.

The Sly and the Family Stone bandleader sealed the deal ahead of his 1976 U.S. Copyright Act reversion rights taking effect.

The Estate of Michael Jackson and MIJAC Music, Jackson's personal publishing company, have acquired majority ownership of the U.S. rights to Sly and the Family Stone's catalog and, as part of the arrangement, will retain long-term administration rights. The estate already owns the entirety of the band's catalog outside the U.S. through MIJAC, which acquired those rights in 1983.

The acquisition includes a trove of the Bay Area funk band's '60s and '70s classics, like "Family Affair," "Dance to the Music," "Everybody Is a Star," "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and "Everyday People." Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Bandleader Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) commented only, “Thank You Mijac (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” -- a reference to his 1969 song "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

MIJAC Music was created by Jackson in 1980. Its first acquisition was for the publishing rights to Sly and the Family Stone's catalog in 1983. The company also includes all of the songs written by Jackson, plus hits made famous by artists like Ray CharlesMarvin GayeElvis Presley and Aretha Franklin.

“Sly and the Family Stone were a force for enlightenment and positive change, a message that Michael believed in," said John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Estate, in a statement. "He recognized Stewart’s genius and the power of his words and music which is why he first acquired the catalog and why we at MIJAC follow in Michael’s footsteps today."

The deal comes ahead of the starting date when Stewart could reclaim his publishing ownership under the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act. Under that law, songs written after 1978 can be reclaimed 35 years after they were issued and songs written before 1972 can be reclaimed after 56 years. As such, Sly and the Family Stone songs from 1968 would be eligible for reversion beginning in 2024. 

The law provides a window to file for termination beginning 10 years before to up to three years after the song was issued. In 2017, Stewart began that process by filing termination notices for about 100 songs owned by MIJAC. That means he could have otherwise regained the publishing rights after that 56 year period passed on each song and have been entitled to write new licenses and collect publishing royalties on those songs.

This deal represents the acquisition of the reversion/termination rights, which means that MIJAC will own the majority interest in the publishing to the songs for the life of copyright. Sources also suggest that Stewart will retain a minority stake in the songs for the U.S., although it's unclear whether he would get that stake now or when the songs actually come up for reversion. Regardless, MIJAC is the administrator for the Stewart stake in the catalog's publishing.

Ownership of Sly and the Family Stone's royalties appears to be muddled in recent years. In December 2018, when Primary Wave Music Publishing claimed to have acquired an interest in the catalog, The Estate of Michael Jackson issued a statement disputing that claim, clarifying that Primary Wave only bought a "passive writer royalty income stream" in the songs. U.S. Copyright law provides for publishers and the songwriter to split a song’s royalties 50/50, with the songwriter owning the writer’s share and the publisher owning the publishing share. That means Primary Wave bought the Sylvester Stewart writer share of the catalog.

Back in 2010, after falling into financial trouble, Stewart filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against his former manager, Jerry Goldstein, alleging fraud and 20 years' worth of stolen royalties. In January 2015, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded Stewart $5 million in damages -- but a judge later ruled that he couldn't collect the payment, because he had signed away those royalties to a production company in the '80s.

The acquisition announcement comes at a busy time for the Estate of Michael Jackson, which is currently continuing to fight HBO's explosive Finding Neverland documentary, preparing a Broadway musical about Jackson, and commemorating the 10th anniversary of Jackson's This Is It, among other projects.


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