Black Hole Sum – the disputed valuation of Chris Cornell’s share of Soundgarden rights

February 28, 2021, By

If ever a reminder was needed that uncertainty breeds conflict, the latest dispute between the widow of singer and songwriter Chris Cornell and his band Soundgarden is a prime example.

After Cornell tragically took his own life in 2017, his widow Vicky Cornell and former band members have been involved in a number of legal skirmishes. The first – a lawsuit filed in December 2019 in relation to some recordings which her husband was working on before his death – is still ongoing.

This recent dispute is broader in scope, as it relates to the valuation of Chris Cornell’s share of Soundgarden, i.e. his interest in the financial aspect of the band such as rights and royalties.

It appears the remaining members of Soundgarden have offered to buy out Cornell’s estate of its rights to their music, which would allow them to continue to exploit their catalogue without restriction from the Cornell estate. This would certainly be a sensible and straightforward way to proceed – however the buy-out sum they offered was a mere $278,000.

When Cornell’s widow found out that the band had been offered $16,000,000 for a part of their catalogue (namely the Master rights), she felt – perhaps unsurprisingly –that the offer fell considerably short of what her late husband’s share of the Soundgarden income should be.

Feeling that Soundgarden was withholding the data which is necessary to calculate the value of the catalogue and Chris Cornell’s share, Vicky Cornell has filed a lawsuit to ask a Court to carry out this valuation.

 Commentary

When it comes to art – and music in particular – determining who owns what, and who is entitled to what proportion of income, is a notoriously complex, difficult, and often painful process.

When relationships fall apart, bands separate, or artists die, it becomes necessary to piece together what was agreed between the various parties, often without anything being set out clearly and in writing.

To avoid the unpleasantness and the cost of being faced with this potentially impossible exercise, it is always advisable to ensure that ownership of rights, splits, profit sharing, decision-making, are all discussed and agreed in writing. Contracts are obviously the gold standard, but even if this agreement only takes the form of an email exchange or even a WhatsApp message, this can potentially save everyone a lot of time (and money!) in the event of a dispute. It may even prevent the dispute from arising altogether.

If you would like advice on how to discuss and agree these issues, of if you are already faced with a hostile dispute about your rights, get in contact with our specialist solicitors – we are always on hand to advise and untangle even the knottiest of situations.

Written by Joshua Schuermann, Associate

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