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Authors: Don’t Make the Buddy Holly Mistake

January 30, 2010

In Authors: Beware of Copyright, Jeff Tucker warns authors to be careful with their publication agreements not to alienate their books and other works. A good illustration of this peril is found in the case of Buddy Holly and his recording contract with Decca. As reported in Buddy Holly’s secretly recorded contract negotiation with Decca,

In 1956, Buddy Holly traveled to Nashville to record several songs. One of the songs he recorded was “That’ll Be The Day”, but the producer assigned to his sessions (Owen Bradley) hated rock n’ roll, and did a terrible job on the song. After that, Buddy traveled to New Mexico and re-recorded “That’ll Be The Day” (the version that became the monster hit) at a different studio with his own (superior) arrangement, but according to his contract with Decca, he couldn’t release it, because Decca owned all rights to his music. He decided to call Decca, to try reason with them, and he secretly taped his conversation. They refused to give him the rights to his own song, but he went ahead and violated his contract. Here is the conversation he secretly taped.

Listening to Holly pleading with the masters he has alienated his rights to is heartbreaking. Decca had dropped him, apparently, but had the rights to sit on his recordings for 5 years. Although they had no intention of releasing the songs, they also would not give Holly permission to do so–the cigar-chomping executive kept saying “well, we got a lot of money tied up in them, Buddy!” But Holly offered to reimburse those costs; no dice.

Authors: do not let this happen to you. When you publish a book, consider publishing it yourself on Amazon/Kindle (or, soon, iBooks/iPad) or LuLu. Or persuade the publisher to let you post an online version for free. At least make sure the publisher will offer a kindle and ebook version. Negotiate, at the very least, the right to post the work online for free after, say, 3 or 4 years, when sales have petered out.


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