Classic Rocker Bucks Trend and Wins Epic Legal Battle to Keep Ownership of His Songs

Following a legal battle that stretched out over half a century, John Fogerty finally owns the global publishing rights to the songs he wrote for Creedence Clearwater Revival so many years ago.

Fogerty, 77, was at last allowed to purchase a majority stake in the rights to the songs he wrote and sang for the short-lived but iconic band from Concord Records, which has owned the rights since 2004.

Fogerty now owns a majority interest in 65 CCR copyrights, including hits like “Bad Moon Rising,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” “Proud Mary,” “Down on the Corner” and “Fortunate Son.”

The prolific rocker, who still enjoys a robust solo career, founded CCR in 1968, alongside his older brother Tom, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, and served as the rock band’s lead singer, lead guitarist and principal songwriter until the band broke up in 1972. But, the bad blood had already soiled the Fogerty brothers’ relationship … Tom quit the band in 1971 due to him and his little brother constantly feuding.

“Tom ended up over the years evolving mentally into some sort of weird Patti Hearst syndrome,” the younger Fogerty said to Rock and Roll Garage magazine in 2020. “That’s what I call it when they kidnap you and you end up siding with your captors, and that’s what Tom did. In some trick of mental agility, he ended up befriending Saul Zaentz against me. By the end of his life Tom was saying ‘Saul is my best friend’. He even wrote me nasty letters saying things like ‘Saul and I will win’. It was very unresolved and very sad.”

The Berkeley-born quartet was responsible for spearheading the “Swamp Rock” movement in music and produced nine top-10 singles and five top-10 albums on the Billboard charts, even outselling the Beatles in 1969, despite being together for such a short run.

The 50-year legal battle is legendary in music industry circles and has served as a warning sign for the bare nastiness involved in the business and demonstrates the gravity of greed responsible for the demise of so many bands from that era.

Fogerty was just a teenager when he signed the original deal with movie producer Saul Zaentz’s Fantasy Records and has remained the face (and voice) of CCR to fans despite receiving no ownership over the rights. Fogerty eventually split with his bandmates over the issue; relinquishing his rights in 1980 in order to get out of his contract with the record label.

The mudslinging, betrayal and bad blood started almost immediately after Fogerty bailed on the band to embark on what would be (and still is) a legendary solo career, while his own brother, Tom, as well as Clifford and Cook, sided with Zaentz until Tom’s death in 1990.

Five years later, in 1995, the remaining CCR members formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited to get their piece of the cake and began playing the band’s original songs. However, Fogerty refused to join his former bandmates on stage out of pure spite and anger.  

About a decade later, in 2004, Zaentz’s Fantasy was bought by Concord Records, for about $80 million (once again, terms were not released) and immediately reinstated Fogerty’s royalties, which he had not received in 25 years, and increased his cut moving forward in an attempt to mitigate some of the long-standing vitriol.

Fogerty’s 50-year fight is unusual for its duration but, is also an outlier because he is one of the only major artist from that generation fighting to actually keep ownership of his songs, Madonna is another but, for different reasons.   

The first big catalogue sale came about two years ago when Bob Dylan sold the rights to more than 600 of his songs to Universal Music Publishing Group for what industry experts put at between $300 million and $500 million (terms were not disclosed). Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Paul Simon, Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and even Mötley Crüe have all since followed others whom sold their rights shortly after Dylan for sums ranging from $100 to $300 million.

For most of the past century the music industry has largely been a mess, as the infamous platform Napster initially ushered in the rise of unfettered and unregulated digital access (and piracy) that slowly devastated the easy money made by the record labels for so long. However, the proverbial genie was out of the bottle and the old infrastructure of music, think radio and record stores, was forced to pivot.

Online music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music, are a good indicator of an artists’ profitability but, for older, well-known songs also bring in royalties through placement in film, television and commercials while the artists retain some say in how and where their music is used.  

Older acts get far fewer streams compared to those from more contemporary artists. For example, the Chili Peppers get nearly three times as many streams, annually, as Dylan does (2.3 billion vs. 800 million) yet Dylan’s catalog sold for more than three times as much demonstrating the dynamic differences between the fanbases. However, both fanbases watch the same shows and buy the same products.

While these recent deals are still speculative, they do present an interesting opportunity for investors due to the relatively low exposure to risk on assets with proven profits, experts say. There is also speculation that under certain interpretations of the 1976 Copyright Act, the heirs of the artists cashing in now may be able to terminate those contractual transfers and regain their elder’s copyrights. But they’ll have to wait 35 years.

While Fogerty has not commented, yet, on his intentions to sell or keep the songs he wrote and sang so long ago, it is a nice story to see an artist regain control of his creations and serves as a warning to up-and-coming artists everywhere.