Is Nothing Sacred

Celine: Let's talk about greed
Cinemania / Music Central

Part 1: Go Away, Little Girl
(Carole King vetoes publishing "tariff")

When Celine Dion sings "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," she really means it: The bestselling superstar is collecting a hefty percentage of the publishing rights of songs she herself did not write but performs on her new album. The album, "Let's Talk About Love," has sold about 12 million copies worldwide in its two months of release and is currently No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200. Dion does not write her own songs; she depends on professional songwriters to craft her hits. But on "Let's Talk About Love," Dion and her husband/manager, René Angelil, asked the writers of all the songs submitted to them for up to 20 percent of the publishing money. Some writers whose songs had been on previous Dion albums declined, and their songs were not used. But six songs by lesser-known writers, or writers without clout in the music industry, succumbed to Dion's demands. In one case — a song called "The Reason," co-written by Carole King, Mark Hudson and Greg Wells — the last two writers agreed to Dion's terms but were vetoed at the last minute by the veteran King, who refused to give in.

The song was still included on the album but not used — as it had been advertised prior to release — as the album's title. King's objections, however, are not reflected on the album's credits: Dion's music-publishing company, Duffield Music, is still listed as the co-publisher of "The Reason." Paul Farberman, a spokesman for Celine Dion, says that will be corrected in future printings of the album. King's manager, Lorna Guess, says, "They asked, and we said no. We never give publishing away." Guess says that King, who co-writes with many artists, has "never" been asked to do such a thing in the past by anyone.

Celine: Let's talk about greed, part 2:
If That's What It Takes
(Mixed reception, plus the official line)

Duffield Music's name is affixed to five more songs Celine Dion did not write, including two by Canadian pop singer Corey Hart. In this way Duffield collects royalties on songs Dion did not write; she exacted a tariff on the writers, whose songs then appear on a bestselling album. The tariff can be as much as 25 percent of the royalties. "Basically we were told it was the only way we could get on the album," says one songwriter. All the writers declined to be interviewed for this story, fearing that Sony Music or Dion and Angelil would have them blackballed. "I have never, ever, been asked to give up publishing before this," says one writer. Bruce Brault, who manages Corey Hart, acknowledged that Duffield was collecting royalties on his client's songs, but refused to comment further. A spokesman for Sony ATV Music Publishing in Canada said that Duffield was "a company controlled by Celine Dion" and referred all questions to her office.

Interestingly, Dion's demand did not work with established writers such as David Foster, the Bee Gees or Bryan Adams. "Giving away publishing" has long been a tradition in the music business, as writers have had to make compromises to get their songs recorded. Elvis Presley, Celine's defenders point out, "did it all the time." But it's not such a common practice these days: Indeed, divas like Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey are not in the business of charging a fee to their songwriters. But Dion's hefty take on "Let's Talk About Love" is unusually high for one album. Sources claim that Angelil received "an enormous amount of money to sign artists to the label, but he hasn't done so, so this is his way of paying it back." Because Angelil demanded publishing fees, some writers of hit songs from Dion's previous, Grammy-award-winning album, "Falling Into You," declined to be included. "I know for a fact that Jim Steinman and Billy Steinberg refused to give up their publishing. I consider it extortion or blackmail," says a source. "It's tacky," says one songwriter, who recalled the singer's royal-like wedding to Angelil, which was filmed by Lifetime Television. "How much money can Celine need?"

Paul Farberman, speaking for Dion, says that he personally negotiated all the deals on the album, and adds, "I made it clear that giving us publishing was not a prerequisite to being on the album." Farberman says that when about 25 songs were chosen from demo tapes, he called each writer's representative and told them Dion was asking them to "relinquish their rights," he says. Writers who objected or declined were not omitted, he insists, from the final selection process. "And some songs were recorded anyway," he observes. But songs by Jim Steinman, Diane Warren and Billy Steinberg — all of whom had hits on previous Dion albums but refused to give up a percentage of their publishing rights — were deemed by Dion and Angelil "not among the best 14 or 15 songs. In the end it was about having the best songs." Ultimately, counters Farberman, "anyone who says we told them they couldn't be on the album otherwise is not telling the truth. It may just be a songwriter who was disappointed that they didn't make it." This is not the first time such a problem has arisen for Dion: on "Falling Into You," several songs are co-published by CRB Music, another one of her subsidiaries.