The long arduous story of Michael Jackson’s new single, “This is It”, released on Sunday night, shows how complicated rights and ownership of music can become.
The story begins in 1983 when Paul Anka and Michael Jackson (then at the height of his stardom) co-wrote a song intended to appear on a duets album that Paul was recording. Shortly after the song was completed, MJ pulled away from the project and took the recordings.
In 1991, R&B singer Safire recorded a version of the song titled, “I Never Heard.” That recording gave writing credits to both MJ and Paul Anka. On Sunday, almost twenty years after “I Never Heard”, the Jackson estate released “This is It.” Many people in the music industry immediately recognized the similarities between the two songs. The problem was that Paul Anka did not receive a writing credit for “This is It.”
Prepared to take the case to court, Paul Anka and the Jackson estate have agreed to terms and Paul Anka has now received his deserved writing credit.
This song shows the need for song writers and collaborators to protect their rights. This song took several variations over three decades and nearly led to a lawsuit. I wonder if the this would have settled so easily had the co-writer been an unknown artist without a legal team behind him or her, as opposed to a legend like Paul Anka.