Sony has agreed to acquire half of Michael Jackson’s catalog from the star’s estate, in what is likely the richest transaction ever for a single musician’s work, according to two people briefed on the agreement.
The deal, which has been gossiped about in the music industry for months, is said to involve Sony purchasing a 50 percent stake in Jackson’s recorded music and songwriting catalogs. That includes not only the estate’s share of megahits like “Beat It” and “Bad,” but also the music publishing assets that are part of Jackson’s Mijac catalog, among them songs written by Sly Stone and tracks made famous by artists like Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The deal is said to value Jackson’s assets at $1.2 billion or more, according to the two people, who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it. Even so, it leaves some of the estate’s interests in other lucrative Jackson-related businesses off the table, like the Broadway musical “MJ,” Cirque du Soleil’s Jackson-themed shows, and a biopic in the works that is set to star Jaafar Jackson, a son of Jackson’s brother Jermaine.
The transaction is said to leave the estate a significant degree of control over the catalog. That contrasts with many other blockbuster catalog deals in recent years, like those with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. While those sales sometimes include finely negotiated parameters over how an artist’s work can be used in the future — say, in commercials or political endorsements — they generally hand over management of songs to a buyer.
Representatives of Sony and the Jackson estate declined to comment on the deal, which was first reported by Billboard. When asked about the news of the deal, John Branca, who was Jackson’s entertainment lawyer in life and has been the co-executor of Jackson’s estate, said: “As we have always maintained, we would never give up management or control of Michael Jackson’s assets.”
Primary Wave, a music company that owns a minority stake in Jackson’s music publishing interests, was not a party to the transaction; a representative of Primary Wave declined to comment.
To a large extent, the deal is an endorsement of the continued star power of Jackson, and the enduring global appeal of his music, 15 years after his 2009 death at age 50, on the eve of a comeback concert series in London.
That appeal has not diminished even in the face of challenges like “Leaving Neverland,” a two-part documentary broadcast by HBO in 2019 in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, recounted what they said was years of sexual abuse by Jackson when they were children. The Jackson estate called the film “tabloid character assassination” and said that Robson and Safechuck had previously denied under oath that any abuse happened; Robson was a star witness at Jackson’s molestation trial in 2005, at which Jackson was acquitted.
After that film was released, Branca said that it had an impact on the estate’s business. But Jackson remains immensely popular with audiences. Each Halloween, streams of the song “Thriller” spike. And “MJ,” the musical based on Jackson’s life, opened two years ago and has grossed $172 million in New York, according to the Broadway League; the show also has an American touring production on the road and three international versions coming.
Jackson was long associated with Sony and its Epic label, which released his megaselling solo albums like “Thriller” and “Bad,” though Jackson later recovered the rights to his recordings.
In 2016, Sony paid $750 million to buy out the Jackson estate’s half of Sony/ATV, the music publishing giant. In 1985, Jackson had purchased ATV, a predecessor of that company — the jewel of which was control of most Beatles songs — for $41.5 million.