On Thursday, nearly 22 years after the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was released, singer Richard Ashcroft announced that the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards assigned to him the songwriter royalties and rights from the song, which samples one of their compositions, and removed their writing credits. The songwriting royalties and rights had been assigned to Jagger and Richards in a legal dispute around the time of the song’s original release in 1997.
The news spurred conversation and debate over the complicated legal battle behind the rights and royalties to the song, which was a global hit in 1997 and samples a segment of an orchestral version of the Jagger-Richards 1965 composition “The Last Time” from an album by erstwhile Stones manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham. The sample was not fully cleared — permission for the recording was obtained, but not for the song itself — and after a legal tussle with Abkco, the song’s publisher, which threatened to block its release, Ashcroft signed away his rights and royalties to “Bittersweet Symphony,” frequently complaining about it in the press, although the sample is a prominent element in the recording.
Ashcroft released a statement early Friday recapping the background of the dispute, which follows in full below. Reps for Jagger and Richards and Abkco did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Abkco was founded by the late Allen Klein, a notoriously tough attorney, music publisher and rights-holder who at one point around 50 years ago was business manager for both the Stones and three-fourths of the Beatles (disagreements between Paul McCartney and the other Beatles over Klein’s tactics are often cited as a contributing factor in their 1969 breakup). In a comment to the BBC yesterday, Ashcroft said that the “Bittersweet” dispute came to an end following negotiations with Klein’s son Jody, CEO of Abkco, and Stones manager Joyce Smith.
Richard Ashcroft’s statement on the history of the “Bittersweet Symphony” dispute:
Over 20 years ago Richard Ashcroft wrote one of his most important songs, “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” but near the end of the creative process a four-second sample of an Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral recording of The Last Time was sampled and used as a loop in the backing track.
Permission for the use of the recording was obtained but for whatever reason at the time permission for the use of the song was overlooked.
By the time the mistake was realised a huge number of copies of the “Urban Hymns” album had been manufactured around the world and the record company were reluctant to scrap them.
They were confident they would be able to do a deal with the publishers and convinced Richard to allow the release of the album as it stood.
However Mr. Allen Klein, the owner of ABKCO, was very protective of his copyright and the only deal that he was prepared to do involved Richard effectively signing away all of his rights in one of his most iconic songs, including the total lyrical content.
Of course, there was a huge financial cost but any songwriter will know that there is a huge emotional price greater than the money in having to surrender the composition of one of your own songs.
Richard has endured that loss for many years.
A few months ago, his management decided to pursue a strategy which any number of people had been told over the years was a futile course of action with zero chance of success.
Mick and Keith immediately, unhesitatingly and unconditionally agreed to this request. Incredibly generously and as an indication of what great artists and men they are they have agreed that to the extent it is within their power they have given Richard his song back.
In the future all royalties that would have gone to them for “Bitter Sweet Symphony” will now go to Richard, but in many ways even more importantly they have said that they no longer require a writing credit for “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” kindly acknowledging that as far as they are concerned it is Richard’s song.
Last year, the Rolling Stones invited Richard Ashcroft to support them at their huge outdoor shows in Manchester and Edinburgh, making him the only artist to join them at more than one show during their 2018 European tour.