Sony buys EMI Music Publishing for $2.3B — but it still doesn’t own ‘Thriller’

The agreement adds more than 2m songs to Sony’s already-iconic catalogue. But the last 10% of EMI still belong to the Jacksons.


May 23, 2018

Sony has announced a deal to acquire 90% of its publishing competitor EMI Music Publishing for $2.3B.

The agreement, still pending regulatory approvals, values EMI at $4.7B, according to The Guardian, and if it goes through, adds more than 2m songs to Sony’s already iconic catalogue.

We’re talking the rights to songs by — drumroll please — The Beatles, and Kanye West (don’t worry, they already had Beyonce).

Sony was already the biggest music publisher in the world

Now, if everything goes as planned, they’ll own the publishing rights to some 4.4m songs.

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Sony signed the deal with EMI’s current majority stakeholder, the Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Mubadala, to buy all 60% of its holdings, giving the entertainment company close to a 90% stake in EMI (it owned 30% prior to the deal).

The other 10%?

It’s owned by the the King of Pop himself

Or, rather, his estate. NPR reports that, back in the ’80s, Paul McCartney told Michael Jackson he needed to own the publishing rights to hit songs if he wanted to make actual money in the biz.

See, music publishers own the rights to a song’s lyrics and composition, meaning anytime a song is played, royalties land in the publisher’s mailbox.

So in 1985, MJ bought ATV Publishing for a reported $47.5m (ironically, ATV owned more than 200 songs by the Beatles at the time). But, in the mid-’90s, Jackson was in debt, forcing him to sell half of ATV to Sony, forming a joint venture between Sony and the Jackson Estate, Sony/ATV.

In 2016, Sony bought the other 50% of ATV for $750m — but that still didn’t include the 10% of EMI owned by the Jackson estate; specifically MJ’s songs.

This is only the beginning of the song for Sony

The transaction is the first major move by Sony’s new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, who on Monday said he plans to double down on the firm’s already massive entertainment division.

And part of that means focusing on the “IP of the entertainment industry” — AKA, publishing rights.

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