Ariana Grande Gives Up Millions in Royalties to Obtain License for "7 Rings" - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Ariana Grande Gives Up Millions in Royalties to Obtain License for “7 Rings”

Ariana Grande Gives Up Millions in Royalties to Obtain License for “7 Rings”

“Whoever said money can’t solve your problems / Must not have had enough money to solve ‘em.’”1 These catchy lyrics, taken from Ariana Grande’s hit song “7 Rings,” are not only applicable to the lifestyle the star is singing about, but also to Grande’s work to get the song released.

Grande’s song, released on her album, “Thank U, Next,”2 samples from and reinterprets the famed song from The Sound of Music: “My Favorite Things.”3 Grande sings about “Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines,” as well as “Wearing a ring, but ain’t gon’ be no ‘Mrs.’ / Bought matching diamonds for six of my bitches,”4 all to the tune of esteemed songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s well-known song.5 As the song begins, there is a clear familiarity of the tune6, leading to Grande’s listing of lavish items, followed with the lyrics “Buy myself all of my favorite things,” a nod to the popular musical’s song.7 With such noticeable similarities between Grande’s “7 Rings” and the 1959 Broadway standard8, many may wonder how Grande’s sampling of the song was legal. While nothing in life is free, Grande’s lyrics referencing money being a problem-solver9 and provides the answer to how Grande was able to release this successful song.

Under U.S. copyright law, “copyright protection exists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”10 Although Rodgers and Hammerstein are both deceased, Concord, a music company, has owned their catalogue under their Theatricals agency since 201711 and therefore owns the copyright to the work. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, “the ownership of a copyright may be transferred in whole or in part by any means of conveyance or by operation of law,”12 one of those means being a license.13 While most parties may spend months—if not longer—negotiating a fair deal for a license, Grande was set on using the late songwriters’ work, and only asked for permission after the song was finished.14

Due to Grande’s success on her prior single, “Thank U, Next,”15 as well as on her previous albums16, Grande was reportedly willing to do whatever it took to obtain a license from Concord.17 After approaching Concord only a few weeks before the song’s release, Grande’s team forewent any form of negotiation, and agreed to Concord’s request for 90% of the songwriting royalties in exchange for the license.18 However, this does not mean that Grande is herself receiving the other 10%; in fact, the remaining songwriting royalties are being split between eight other songwriters.19 However, songwriting royalties are not the only royalties available when a song is created.20

There are mechanical royalties, paid to songwriters who “hold the rights to the lyrics and melody of a piece of music,” and then there are performance royalties, which are paid to the artists who hold the rights to a particular recording of a song, known as the master recording.21 While Grande may be giving away 90% of the mechanical royalties to Concord, the singer will still receive all of the performance royalties.22 “7 Rings” is not the first time Rodgers and Hammerstein’s catalogue owners have scored a big deal for the licensing of a copyright.23 In 2006, “Gwen Stefani used some of the yodeling “Lonely Goatherd” (also from “The Sound of Music”) for [her] song, “Wind It Up,”” and Rodgers and Hammerstein received 50 percent of the royalties.24 The 40% difference may have to do with the amount of the song used, the recognizability of the song used, or the fact that Grande made no attempt to negotiate the license deal that Concord presented her team with.25

As a successful pop artist, Grande found it more important to release her song in her exact image than to save money on having to license out such recognizable music. While she may have foregone negotiations, a license is still a contract, and therefore songwriters with less bargaining power may not have the clout that Concord did when presenting a deal for a license. Grande’s decision will therefore most likely not affect the ability of future licensees to keep their royalties, and licensors will still have to negotiate for an amount to be agreed upon by both sides.

  1. Ariana Grande, 7 Rings, on Thank u, next (Republic 2019).

  2. Nick Reilly, Ariana Grande Signs Away 90% Of ‘7 Rings’ Royalties, NME (Mar. 20, 2019), []

  3. Ben Sisario, ‘7 Rings’ Is A Hit for Ariana Grande, and a Knockout for Rodgers and Hammerstein, N.Y. Times (Mar. 19, 2019), []

  4. Grande, supra note 1.

  5. Tatiana Cirisano, Rodgers & Hammerstein Earning 90% of Ariana Grande ‘7 Rings’ Songwriter Royalties, Billboard (Mar. 19, 2019), []

  6. Grande, supra note 1.

  7. Id.

  8. Cirisano, supra note 5.

  9. Grande, supra note 1.

  10. 17 U.S.C. § 102 (1990).

  11. Sisario, supra note 3.

  12. 17 U.S.C. § 201 (1978).

  13. Copyright Licensing, Justia, (last visited Sept. 27, 2019) “An author of an original work may gain an economic or other benefit by granting another person or entity the authority to exercise one or more of these rights, or even part of one of the rights. A transfer of rights in a copyrighted work can be accomplished through a copyright license or an assignment.” []

  14. Sisario, supra note 3.

  15. Cirisano, supra note 5.

  16. Cirisano, supra note 5. “It follows Sweetener (which debuted atop the list dated Sept. 1, 2018), My Everything (Sept. 13, 2014) and Yours Truly (Sept. 21, 2013). Grande ties Taylor Swift for the second-most No. 1s among women this decade, trailing Lady Gaga, with five leaders since 2010.”

  17. David Renshaw, Ariana Grande Reportedly Giving 90% Of “7 Rings” Royalties To “My Favorite Things” Songwriters, the fader (Mar. 20, 2019), “The report suggests that Grande’s label, Republic, did not attempt to negotiate with the requested 90% rate for use of the song when they approached Concord.” []

  18. Sisario, supra note 3.

  19. Id.

  20. Mechanical Royalties vs. Performance Royalties: What’s the Difference?, royalty exchange, (last visited Sept. 27, 2019). []

  21. Id.

  22. Ray Kelly, Ariana Grande Signed Away 90 Percent Of ‘7 Rings’ Songwriting Royalties To Rodgers And Hammerstein Estates, mass live (Mar. 21, 2019), []

  23. Sisario, supra note 3.

  24. Id.

  25. Id.

Dori Morris

Dori Morris is a third year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media, & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.A. in American History, with a minor in Cinema Studies, from the University of Pennsylvania.