A Lesson in Copyrights and Licensing from The Verve

Do you remember the Rolling Stones Tongue Logosong Bittersweet Symphony? It was a huge hit around the world in 1997, used in movies, TV shows, and commercials. It has been sampled many times for re-use in other songs. The hit was written and performed by the English band The Verve. It has an incredibly distinct symphonic backing that most gen X-ers and some gen Y-ers should recognize.

The song has its roots with The Rolling Stones, however. While The Verve wrote the lyrics, the underlying orchestral melody was performed and recorded by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra for The Rolling Stones’ song The Last Time. Oldham was the Stones’ manager in the ’60s around the time The Last Time was recorded.

It seems that some part of the original song was negotiated for, allowing The Verve to sample it. However, after Bittersweet Symphony took off in the charts, the Stones’ later manager Allen Klein alleged that the sampling had gone too far. The Verve lost, and Allen Klein subsequently licensed wide use of the song to the great dismay of The Verve. Not only did they not receive royalty payments, but their song came to be used in car commercials and sneaker spots, and when it was nominated for a Grammy, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were the nominees.

Some might say the band that “wrote” the song never profited from it. Clearly, the validity, clarity, and power of the license here were incredibly important. A band can really expose itself to liability if it never seeks a sampling license, but even with one, risk still persists.