Nevermind the film’s controversial plot. Joker, the R-rated box office smash about one socially isolated man’s descent into violence, recently came under fire for including a song by convicted pedophile Gary Glitter in its soundtrack.
Much of the public outcry has centered on whether Glitter — who is currently serving a 16-year jail sentence for sexually abusing three young girls in the late ’70s — will profit from the sync of his 1972 jock jam classic “Rock and Roll Part II” during a pivotal scene. The answer is complicated.
As the Los Angeles Times first brought to light, because Glitter sold away his master recording and publishing rights to the song years ago, he isn’t directly receiving sync fees or royalty payments for most of the song’s streams — which rose to 1.5 million in the week after the film’s Oct. 4 release, up from 133,000 the week before, according to Nielsen Music.
But there is a smaller source of revenue that could still be headed for Glitter’s pocket: Digital performance royalties from the song’s non-interactive streams on Pandora, SiriusXM and other webcasters.
By law, those royalties are collected by the rights management organization SoundExchange, which then distributes the money primarily to the main artist and the owner of the recording, which is commonly the label. If Glitter is registered with SoundExchange, he should be receiving those payments.
A representative for SoundExchange declined to reveal Glitter’s registration status, which is standard. “We currently collect and distribute royalties on behalf of more than 199,000 recording artists and copyright owners’ accounts,” SoundExchange wrote. “In order to protect their privacy, SoundExchange does not disclose their registration status or share any of their royalty information.”
Neither Glitter’s stage name nor his birth name, Paul Gadd, turn up results on SoundExchange’s online search for unregistered artists with royalties waiting, which seems to indicate he is registered. (Late “Rock and Roll Part II” co-writer Mike Leander isn’t eligible for payments, as SoundExchange only handles royalties for artists and recording copyright owners, not songwriters.)
Thanks to the Joker sync, Glitter’s sum would be slightly higher than usual. Programmed streams of “Rock and Roll Part II” were up to 6,000 for the tracking week of Oct. 4 through Oct. 10, a 17% uptick from the week prior, according to Nielsen. Without the Joker boost, the song is normally generating around 5,000 programmed streams per week.
Glitter, 75, was sentenced to jail in 2015 for attempted rape, four counts of indecent assault and one of having sex with a girl under 13 between 1975 and 1980. But even if an artist is behind bars, SoundExchange says that as long as the artist provides an address and direct deposit information, it will continue to deposit funds unless a court order blocks the exchange (again, as required by law).
If an artist isn’t registered with SoundExchange, the organization will continue to collect funds for a three-year period, after which the money is redistributed among other artists.
Likewise, Glitter is likely still collecting performance royalties for “Rock and Roll Part II” as a songwriter. That’s because the way performance rights organizations generally work, it is difficult — if not impossible — for an artist to sign away their entire share of performance rights: half are paid to the publishers, and half are paid to the songwriters. It follows that Glitter, who is affiliated with PRS for Music, would get paid every time the song receives a “public performance,” like getting played in a bar, on the radio, at a sports event or on broadcast TV, where Joker may eventually wind up.
It’s no secret “Rock and Roll Part II” has been a sports stadium favorite for decades. The National Football League effectively banned stadiums from playing the song after Glitter’s 2006 conviction, but the rule hasn’t always held strong: After Glitter’s version was banned by the NFL in 2006, a cover version was still used and even adopted as the New England Patriots’ touchdown anthem. Just days before the Super Bowl in 2012, the league had to rush to prevent the Patriots from using the song during the big game. No such bans have been established by the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball or National Hockey League.
Meanwhile, a source close to Warner Bros. Studios tells Billboard there are no plans to remove the song from the Joker soundtrack or future versions of the film, contrary to recent reports. And the only official soundtrack currently available for listening is the film score.
Snapped Music has owned Glitter’s master recordings since January 1997, while Universal Music Publishing Group acquired 100% of Glitter’s publishing rights for “Rock and Roll Part II” decades ago. BMG has represented Leander’s publishing share since 2009, when it acquired Crosstown, which included Leander’s catalog under Palan Music.
A spokesperson for Snapped Music declined to reveal how much Warner Bros. paid for the sync, but said that between $100,000 and $200,000 is a “good estimate” of what it costs to clear master and publishing for a major studio film — a hefty sum of which Glitter won’t see a penny.