A rock star’s life may be forgiven for being something wild but nobody had bargained for what emerges while the world’s biggest Bowie bond issue is being negotiated. A chance encounter followed by a brief, romantic fling in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming has unexpected repercussions when one of the world’s greatest stars attempts to fund new ventures by raising capital in the money markets in a deal that would break all previous records. The $100 million deal looks set to fail – but much more than money is at stake. Music will always have a greater capacity to touch the heart than to open the wallet. In Something Wild the worlds of business and entertainment provide the setting for a drama that will leave no one untouched.
Sarah Jensen, who is also the heroine of Linda Davies’ first novel Nest of Vipers, is beautiful and fiercely independent. She has fought her way to the top of one of the toughest businesses in the world, as a financial trader, and worked undercover for MI6. She’s survived the death of her parents, the murder of her best friend and the assassination of her lover and she refuses, to complicate her life and sacrifice her independence by allowing any long-term involvement with the one man who has touched her heart, the rock star John Redford whom she meet in Wyoming.
Months later, when her son is born, Sarah keeps the identity of his father a secret, determined that she will never see him again. Then she is persuaded to return to her old investment bank to investigate a potential new client, a rock star who is planning a huge financial deal. It can only work if the bank is certain that there is nothing hidden in the rock star’s past that could jeopardise his future earnings. Her new client is John Redford. Sarah is quickly drawn into an investigation that threatens her and her son’s life. To protect them both she must risk everything …
Intellectual property, including patents, copyright and trademarks, is a key source of wealth in the knowledge economy. Whereas the possession of tangible assets, e.g. land or real estate, was once often necessary to provide security in large deals, nowadays ownership of intangible assets such as copyright can unlock wealth. The most striking demonstration of this occurred in January 1997 when David Bowie, who has always been one of the most innovative figures in rock music, made financial history by raising $55 million through the issue of bonds backed by the future royalties of his music. Where Bowie leads others follow. James Brown, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, Ashford & Simpson, Joan Jett, the heavy-metal group Iron Maiden, and Motown songwriter trio Edward and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier are among those in the music business who have issued Bowie bonds, as has the estate of the late Dusty Springfield.
Most such deals, including the original one with Bowie himself, have been arranged by the man described by Time Magazine as “one of tomorrow’s 100 most influential innovators” – the financier David Pullman. By using the bond markets a singer, songwriter or musician can raise a huge sum of money without having to wait for royalties to accumulate. The purchasers of the bonds are, in effect, lending money to the the bond issuer whose copyrights act as security for the loan which is paid off using the associated royalties. Normally bonds are issued for a fixed period at a fixed rate of interest. When the bond matures (i.e. the loan has been repaid) the song rights revert to the artist who could either try to sell them again or simply just receive regular royalties.
In May 2002, David Pullman responded to the publication of Something Wild with a press release.
“I was so honored when I heard that a best-selling author of Linda Davies’ caliber was writing a novel based on my first deal with David Bowie. Intellectual property continues to grow and is now a trillion dollar market. Linda’s book gives readers a look at how exciting this industry can be.”
Brian Holland, the great Motown songwriter who is one of the people with whom David Pullman has negotiated bond deals, said of his own deal in an interview with Variety magazine in May 2003, “you could almost write a James Bond novel …”
The advantages of bonds to the creative artist is that by receiving money up front he or she can more easily finance other ventures. Bowie was able to buy out his former manager’s share of the rights to his songs so that he now controls 100% of the copyrights in his own songs. Since his pioneering bond deal David Bowie has been involved in virtual banking with Bowiebanc (not one of his most successful ventures) and other Internet services. Organisations as well as individuals can raise money in this way. On 1 March 2001, the Royal Bank of Scotland announced a £60 million bond deal with the Chrysalis Group Plc, a music publisher.
Intellectual property is a trillion dollar market, according to David Pullman. However if it is to maintain its value then the enforcement of copyright laws is a necessity. This has become a very contentitious issue owing to technological developments and the belief, in some quarters, that “information wants to be free” an aphorism attributed to Stewart Brand, at the first Hackers’ Conference back in 1984, but it was the igenuity of a 19 year old college student, Shawn Fanning that resulted in the record companies’ worst nightmare – Napster. Within months of its release Napster had become the most controversial piece of software in history and was followed by other peer-to-peer file sharing systems which allowed downloading music in MP3 format from the Internet. If online music piracy grows, then Bowie and other artists who got cash up front, could potentially lose their song rights which are the collateral for the loans.
Legal battles with record companies led to Napster’s bankruptcy in June 2002. It re-emerged as a legal fee-charging service, Napster 2.0 in the autumn of the following year, but the threat from other free file sharing systems, e.g. Grokster and Kazaa, still exists and Hollywood is growing increasingly worried about the effect of internet piracy on the film industry.
Everywhere the law has to struggle to keep up with technological developments. In February 2001 when the European parliament passed the copyright directive seeking to harmonise the laws of all the countries in the European Union, the MEPs were subject to the most intense lobbying from all sides that had been experienced in the parliament’s history.
Some commentators have argued that making music available for downloading can increase the market for it. The success of the Apple ipod shows how customers are willing to pay to download and store the music they want. The growing use of mobile phones had, by 2003, created a market for downloadable ringtones worth € 1 billion in Europe alone. Pop music is also being used to a steadily growing extent in the advertising industry. Probably the most spectacular example of this was when Microsoft paid the Rolling Stones an estimated £ 8 million for the use of the song Start Me Up when Windows 95 was launched.
Such developments show what a hot issue intellectual property is destined to be in the 21st century. The thriller Something Wild is the first work of fiction to deal with Bowie bonds and intellectual property in the music business.
Comments from reviews of Something Wild and other thrillers by Linda Davies.
De Vlakte (the Dutch translation) was published by Luitingh-Sijthoff. Die Löwengrube (German) is published by Ullstein, and Qualcosa di travolgente (Italian) was published by Il Sole 24ore.