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Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and managing an artist's estate

We are talking about Marvin Gaye's estate and the sad condition his finances were in when he passed away more than 25 years ago. Like Michael Jackson, Gaye left enormous debts behind. Unlike Jackson, Gaye left no will.

Gaye's situation was bad enough that the court appointed a bankruptcy attorney to handle the estate. By carefully managing the late singer's image and music catalog (including royalties), that attorney turned a mountain of debt into a nice inheritance for Gaye's three children.

That attorney helped the estate dodge one bullet, but because Gaye left no will it was impossible to avoid other problems. A recent copyright suit, in fact, involved his children and their rights but not his estate and its rights.

If you aren't familiar with Gaye, but the name sounds familiar, it may be because of that copyright infringement case. Gaye's heirs sued Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke over what they said were marked similarities between Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" and the others' recent hit, "Blurred Lines." Gaye's heirs prevailed: The jury awarded them $7.4 million in damages.

It is not easy to figure out how the music industry works. We aren't just talking about writers, singers, agents and concert tours. The seemingly simple act of writing a song and performing it can generate revenue in a few different ways for a few different people, depending on the role each played in the process.

It doesn't stop there. We'll finish this up in our next post.

Source: Crain's Wealth, "Blurred lines surround estate of Marvin Gaye," Andy and Danielle Mayoras, April 15, 2015

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