According to pop-music lore, it was Paul McCartney who told Michael Jackson that music publishing rights were “a good investment,” only to have the young whippersnapper turn around and buy the (very valuable) rights to The Beatles’ back catalog. And Jackson’s investment—he bought ATV Music Publishing at a net cost of $41.5 million in 1985, and merged it with Sony Music Publishing in 1995—has paid off: Although reports vary, the joint venture, which owns the publishing rights to everything from Donny Osmond to Eminem to Taylor Swift, now pulls in more than a billion dollars a year in royalties.
In his lifetime, Jackson always refused to sell his share of the company. But his death in 2009 left his estate more than $500 million in debt, only part of which has been paid off through posthumous album sales. So his estate has arranged a deal with Sony, selling Jackson’s half of the company for a reported $750 million; what’s left after the debts are all paid off will be put into a trust fund for Jackson’s children. (Those looking for a sobering reminder of the inevitable death-march of time are welcome to look up current pictures of those kids, the youngest of whom is 14 and no longer going by the nickname “Blanket.”) Jackson‘s children will also retain a 10 percent interest in EMI Music Publishing, as well as the master tapes and publishing rights to their father’s music, which will continue to pay dividends as long as “Thriller” plays on the radio nonstop every Halloween.