Does Simon Cowell Own the Rights to “Hallelujah”?

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

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: American Idol’s parent company and/or Simon Cowell owns the publishing rights to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah,” off of his 1984 album, Various Positions, was not exactly a hit right away.

Artist John Cale recorded the song in 1991 for a Leonard Cohen cover album. It was Cale’s version that inspired singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley to cover the song for his 1994 album, Grace.

Buckley’s version was well-received, critically, but it was not exactly an instant hit. In fact, at the time of Buckley’s death, the song was not nearly as popular as it soon would become as it began to be covered by other artists (most notably by singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright) and used in a number of films and television shows.

One television show, in particular, who used the show frequently, was American Idol.

In 2008, contestant Jason Castro did a version of the song popular enough that it got Buckley’s version back into the list of top downloads in the country!

Castro put the song on his debut album.

In 2010, the song was used TWICE on the show! Early in the season, contestant Tim Urban used it, and later in the season, Simon Cowell chose the song for contestant Lee DeWyze to sing. DeWyze would eventually win the 2010 American Idol contest.

Meanwhile, over in England, in 2008, Cowell’s OTHER show, The X-Factor, saw its 2008 winner, Alexandra Burke, ALSO do a version of the song, breaking sales records with her single of the tune (and being “honored” with having the “Christmas single,” the British tradition of singling out the song that is #1 on the charts on Christmas Day – Burke won despite a campaign to get Buckley’s version back on to the chart as a sort of protest against X-Factor. Burke ultimately won out, but Buckley’s version did end up #2 on the charts).

In addition, Il Divo, ANOTHER group of Cowell’s, ALSO recorded the song.

All of this Cowell involvement in the song led to an interesting rumor in early 2010 that Cowell, or the company behind American Idol, had acquired the publishing rights to “Hallelujah,” which is why they were promoting the song so much.

This, however, is not true. The publishing rights are owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Still, if an artist from Cowell’s record company has a hit with the song, obviously he makes money off the song THAT way, but that’s just straightforward music stuff, not some secret conspiracy where he secretly owns the rights to the song.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Thanks to Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Slezak, for the information on this one!

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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