Chances are, you’ve heard “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve.
Whether it was because you listened to music in the 90’s, or because you saw a Nike ad, Bittersweet Symphony absolutely smashed worldwide records in 1997. But, did you know that The Verve were stripped of their ownership of the song, and don’t even earn one single percentage of the royalties?
The TL;DR of it all? Copyright law is complex as hell.
It’s not incredibly obvious since the band layered nearly 50 tracks of instrumentation, but Bittersweet Symphony uses a five-note sample from the orchestral version of “The Last Time” by The Rolling Stones.
The Orchestral version of “The Last Time”, where the sample was taken from (above)
“The last time” performed by The Rolling Stones” (below)
Now, The Verve negotiated a license to use the 5-note sample, but when the track became a smash hit, former Stones manager Allen Klein (who owns the copyright to the band’s pre-1970’s songs) decided he was going to be a little (read: a lot) overzealous, and decided to sue the band, claiming that The Verve broke the agreement when they “supposedly” used a larger part of the song than what was negotiated in the license – something the Verve still vehemently disputes.
Rather than fighting an expensive legal ruling that could end up not ruling in their favour, the band decided to settle out of court, and handed over 100% of the songwriting royalties.
What’s worse, is that Bittersweet Symphony was nominated for a Best Song category Grammy, but since that category honours songwriters, and Klein now owned the songwriting credits, the Grammy nomination actually went to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
Not only did the Verve not get any money for the song, they no longer got the recognition (officially) for creating a chart-topping hit.
To quote the song….
“’Cause it’s a bitter sweet symphony that’s life
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die…”
Did Klein go too far? Did the Verve actually commit a copyright faux pas? Listen to the tracks above, so you can judge yourself.