The rights to Queen’s music belong to four parties. This includes Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor, as well as the estate of Freddie Mercury. Their music rights and income management comes through Queen Productions Ltd. and Queen Music Ltd.
As one of the most celebrated rock bands in the world, Queen continues to enjoy great popularity due to their iconic songs. It is estimated that they have sold over 250 million records and appreciation for their music shows no sign of abating.
Queen continues to perform today, albeit with only two of the original members. However, their greatest hits are associated with lead singer Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991.
In this article, I will examine who owns the rights to Queen songs and the people who receive the millions of dollars in royalties that continue to be generated today.
Queen Productions Ltd.
The rights to Queen’s songs are controlled by Queen Productions Ltd. This UK-based organization is jointly and equally owned by the estate of Freddie Mercury and the three living founding members of Queen – Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor.
The income that Queen’s songs generate each year is received by Queen Productions Ltd. It is then divided equally among these four parties.
Freddie Mercury’s estate
In the case of Freddie Mercury, he bequeathed 50% of his recording royalties to his ex-wife Mary Austin, who had remained one of his closest friends even after their divorce. The rest of his royalties were divided between his parents and sister. However, after the death of his parents, it has been reported that Mary Austin’s share has risen to 75%.
While the way the earnings from Queen’s music are divided up may seem quite straightforward, the distribution of the licensing rights is a bit more complex.
Disney’s Hollywood Records
In 1972, Queen entered into a production deal with Trident Studios before moving on to EMI. They remained with EMI for most of their career, before signing with Capitol records in 1983. Queen subsequently terminated their U.S. contract with Capitol and, in 1991, entered into an agreement with Disney’s Hollywood Records.
The contract gave Disney exclusive distribution rights to Queen’s music catalog in North America. Meanwhile, Universal Music has licensing rights in the rest of the world.
Queen Music Ltd.
The band’s master recordings are owned by Queen Productions Ltd., which is responsible for managing the different licensing arrangements. Meanwhile, Queen’s publishing rights are owned by a separate company based in the UK called Queen Music Ltd. These publishing rights are administered by Sony Music Publishing. Filing records suggest that Queen Music Ltd. pays its music publishing income to Queen Production Ltd.
If that sounds complex, it is because it is. When you have a band as successful as Queen, there are many different parties vying to get different types of rights to the hit songs. With millions of dollars being generated each year, it is only natural that the beneficiaries are careful to maintain legal ownership while managing the licensing and distribution in the most profitable manner possible.
Queen has enjoyed a spike in popularity in 2019, thanks to the Oscar-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody. While Brian May has complained that they have yet to see any royalties from the highly successful film, the income of Queen Productions Ltd. rose to £72.7 million in 2019 as a result of renewed interest in their songs. It has since tapered down, but the connection between the film and Queen’s songs shows how the royalties of music can fluctuate.
Another example illustrates the complex nature of these interactions. When Donald Trump introduced his wife, Melania, over a recording of “We Are The Champions” at the Republican National Convention in 2016, Queen was not happy. Even though they, and Disney who manage their rights in North America, complained, it turned out there was nothing they could do.
This is because Trump had purchased the right to play the song from EMI, leaving Disney and Queen with no say over the matter. Trump has since been forced to stop using the song on his campaign trail.
However, this shows the different types of licensing rights that are available in different countries, the organizations that control these rights, and the myriad ways in which Queen songs generate income.
The rights to Queen’s songs are managed by four parties – Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor, as well as the estate of Freddie Mercury. This is done through organizations such as Queen Productions Ltd. and Queen Music Ltd. These organizations in turn enter into licensing agreements for particular regions with different companies.
Queen Featured Image by: Carl Lender, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons