Did Paul Anka Get the Publisher’s Rights for “My Way” for Free?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Paul Anka got the publisher’s rights to “My Way” for free.

As I discussed in a recent edition of Music Legends Revealed, Claude François had a hit in France in 1967 with the Jacques Revaux song “Comme D’Habitude” (lyrics by Claude François and Gilles Thibaut)…

In 1969, singer/songwriter Paul Anka acquired the rights to the song and used the tune to write a brand-new song (lyric-wise) called “My Way.”

Anka gave the song to Frank Sinatra, who used it as the title track to his 1969 album…

All well and good, but amazingly enough, Anka acquired the publisher’s rights (half of the publishing rights) to the song for FREE!!!

Publishing rights are basically what it sounds like – the right to publish a work. In the old days, songs made the majority of their money through the publication of sheet music of the song. Publishing songs still includes the sale of sheet music, but it also includes all other usage of the song’s copyright, with the most important being the recording of the song, either by the artist themselves or by other artists (cover versions). Each time the song is played, there is a royalty paid. The person who owns the publisher’s rights of the song gets half of the royalties (typically – you can negotiate different terms, of course) while the writer of the song gets the other half.

So song royalties can be valuable. However, they can also be worthless if no one is actually playing the song, ya know?

In the case of Paul Anka and the song “Comme D’Habitude,” the song was a minor hit in France, but it wasn’t exactly an international sensation. Anka only heard it because he was spending a lot of time in France on holiday.

So the argument Anka undoubtedly presented to them was “if you give me the publisher’s rights and the song’s a hit, you guys will get 37.5% of the royalties as the writers of the song (all three men, Jacques Revaux, Claude François and Gilles Thibaut co-wrote the song – it is 37.5% instead of 50% because Anka would get an equal share for the new English lyrics, as they are not a translation of the French lyrics) and that is better than the NOTHING you’ll get if I DON’T take the song and make it a hit.”

Still, they must not have been particularly confident in the chances of the song becoming a hit for them to assign Anka basically 62.5% of the future royalties of the song for free, and seeing as how the song has become a MAJOR song to cover (it’s biggest success WAS a cover version), Anka made a shrewd move.

But Anka had learned pretty early on the power of music publishing, as he chose to publish his own music not too long into his career as a songwriter. As his career as a performer waned, he became more and more a music publisher than anything else, and he has certainly done well for himself by it.

But don’t cry for Revaux, François and Thibaut, I’m sure they’ve made more money of the song than they ever expected to!

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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