In December 2020, Bob Dylan sold his entire catalogue of music to Universal Music Publishing for $300 million. Dylan’s musical career spanned over six decades and produced a number of classic songs, many still in demand to this day. But Dylan didn’t always work alone. Starting 1975, Dylan worked with songwriter/musician Jacques Levy. Levy was not an anonymous composer and in fact has worked with several high-profile musicians, including the Byrds, Joe Crocker, Carly Simon, and Crystal Gayle. According to the complaint filed by Levy’s estate, Dylan and Levy had entered into an agreement in 1976 where Levy would receive 35% of all of the income earned from the songs the two had collaborated on and which would appear in the album Desiree. Therefore, according to the Levy Estate, they are owed millions in royalties.
The outcome of this case will depend entirely on contract law. The agreement states that Levy’s contribution was a “work-made-for-hire” which would vest all rights with Dylan. But alleged eyewitness testimony said that the relationship between Dylan and Levy went far beyond the work-made-for-hire relationship and was a true collaboration, and the Levy Estate claims that it is this relationship that reflects the agreement between the two and not the written agreement which, according to the Levy claim, misrepresents the agreement. There is some ambiguity in the contract in that Levy was to be credited as a co-author, and to receive royalties for his contribution was unusual for a typical work-made-for-hire arrangement.
This will be an interesting case to follow. But the takeaway is if you are a musician working with others, make sure you clearly outline your relationship in a written contract.