There have been 101 books written about rock and roll rip-offs. When you think of the enormity of some of them—just how much of an artist’s hard-earned cash was being siphoned off by managers and others in so many of these cases—you start to wonder what it is about rock stars, rock managers or the rock business that allows this to happen so frequently.
To go into the minute detail of actual cases here would take several books (and those books do exist!), but suffice it to say that the biggest names of the last 30 years, from The Beatles to Elton John, from The Rolling Stones to Sting, have all been ripped off in some way and have spent a large proportion of their lives in court trying to rectify their situations. Why don’t they learn from past cases? Why do management, publishing and recording contracts repeatedly have to be dismantled in court in order for the artists to get their just deserts? Why can’t the business be simplified so that artists simply do what’s required of them and get paid accordingly?
Here’s the short answer to all these questions: in music, you’re dealing with a product with no intrinsic value. It is nonetheless a product from which there is much money to be made. To get from no intrinsic value to much money involves the manipulation and exploitation of a whole range of people and businesses, which is done through a series of contracts drawn up between artist and publisher, artist and manager, artist and record company. To get from no intrinsic value to much money also requires an understanding of the marketplace—who buys