The publishing rights to David Bowie’s huge and peerless catalogue of songs have been sold by his estate to Warner Chappell Music (WCM), the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, in a deal worth at least $250m (£185m) according to anonymous sources speaking to Variety.
Guy Moot, chief executive of WCM, said: “These are not only extraordinary songs, but milestones that have changed the course of modern music for ever … We are looking forward to tending his unparalleled body of songs with passion and care as we strive to build on the legacy of this most extraordinary human being.”
The deal means that Warner now owns the rights to Bowie’s songwriting itself, as well as to almost all the recordings of it. In September 2021, the company completed a deal to acquire Bowie’s recordings from 2000 until his death in 2016, adding to the recordings it already owned from 1968 to 1999.
Just a small cache of recorded music made prior to Bowie’s late-60s breakthrough is now not owned by Warner Music. The company has been lavishly repackaging Bowie’s back catalogue in a series of box sets in recent years.
The deal is the latest in a series of major acquisitions by various companies of the catalogues of pop artists, with Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and various members of Fleetwood Mac selling the rights for their songs for large cash sums.
These deals allow the publishing companies to accrue income from royalties, as well as when music is licensed for use in films, TV and advertising.
Terms of the Bowie deal have not been disclosed but the Bowie estate has historically closely controlled the use of his work. The 2020 biopic Stardust, about the birth of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona, was forbidden by the estate from using Bowie’s music.
WCM co-chair Carianne Marshall said: “We were pleased that the estate felt that Warner Chappell has the knowledge, experience, and resources to take the reins and continue to promote a collection of this stature. All of our global leaders and departments are incredibly excited and primed to get to work with these brilliant songs across multiple avenues and platforms.”
Another film that does already have the blessing of the estate is a forthcoming untitled documentary by film-maker Brett Morgen, who is using thousands of hours of rare and unseen live performance footage as its basis.