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Chatter has become deafening around a possible deal for Queen’s recorded catalog and publishing (including name and likeness), although most insiders agree it isn’t worth 1 billion (pounds or dollars). UMG’s current deal is a long-term licensing pact brokered by Jim Beach and Sir Lucian Grainge (when the latter was head of international in the U.K.) that won’t be up for a very long time. Insiders reckon the story was leaked by a financial player looking to see how it plays in the press. Most insiders who’ve seen the numbers for the £1b valuation feel it’s hugely inflated. One presumes Uni (thought to be in the lead in the contest) and Sony would both be interested if the price was right. Sony, by the way, has yet to announce the $850m Michael Jackson deal or the new Bad Bunny/Rimas deal.

Queen, whose first album dropped 52 years ago, has been out-streaming tracks by top current acts on Spotify, where five of the British rockers’ songs are at well over 1b streams—led by “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2.1b+), which was anointed the most-streamed song from the 20th century a few years back. The group’s catalog got a megaton boost from the Oscar-winning 2018 biopic (also called Bohemian Rhapsody), and the long tail keeps waving. The surviving members have also had several lucrative years on the road performing Queen hits with singer Adam Lambert.

The band was on Elektra/Asylum in North America and EMI for the rest of the world through its biggest releases. When they got cold in the ’80s, Elektra CEO Bob Krasnow, rather than cutting them a check for a couple million for new music, opted instead to cut them loose—with their recording rights. A North American licensing deal with Hollywood was done in 1990. Then-label chief Peter Paterno, who scored that coup for just $10m (despite carping from bizniks who argued that Queen was past its prime), had a trigger built in to buy out the licensing deal upon hitting a preset threshold.

Since Hollywood is distributed by UMG (which absorbed EMI in 2012), Queen’s recorded rights are already under a single global distributor’s umbrella. Insiders say there are no current negotiations for Disney-owned Hollywood to sell, and no interest there to sell at this time.

As for their publishing, an admin deal resided with EMI until that company was folded into Sony Music Publishing, which carries on the admin deal (with its exceptionally long term). How would it work if Uni acquired the rights? In any case, dealmaker extraordinaire Beach—or, as Freddie Mercury called him, “Miami”— deserves much credit for the many lucrative agreements Queen has inked over the years, including a pending deal that could be one of the biggest of all time.

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