Bitter sweet victory for Richard Ashcroft as Rolling Stones stars hand over rights to Symphony hit

Hannah Furness
Richard Ashcroft has regained rights to his song Bitter Sweet Symphony  - Getty Images Europe

Richard Ashcroft has regained rights to his song Bitter Sweet Symphony after more than two decades, after Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards agreed to hand over their legal entitlement to royalties.

The Verve singer lost the rights to his most recognisable song in 1997 thanks to a four-second orchestral sample of Rolling Stones song The Last Time used as a backing track.

On Thursday, Ashcroft disclosed that Jagger and Richards had returned them to him as a “truly kind and magnanimous thing to do”, after his management approached them directly to appeal.

All future royalties that would have gone to the pair for Bitter Sweet Symphony will now go to Ashcroft, and they have removed their names from the credits for the track.

The case had gone down in music folklore as a landmark copyright dispute, held up as a cautionary tale by some and an injustice by others.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Credit:  Mark Allan

It centres on a sample of a four second sample of an Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral recording of The Last Time, used as a loop in the backing track.

While permission for the use of the recording was obtained, that did not extend to permission for the use of the song with copies of The Verve’s album Urban Hymns already created and distributed around the world ready to be released before the error was noticed.

The late Allen Klein, of ABKCO Records which owned the Rolling Stones catalogue up to 1970 including the sample in question, moved to protect his copyright in a legal negotiation which left Ashcroft signing over rights to the song and its lyrics.

More than 20 years later, after his management approached Jagger and Richards directly to appeal for the return of the song, the Rolling Stones members agreed.

Speaking at The Ivors 2019 after winning an award for his outstanding contribution to British music, Ashcroft said: "We've been working over the last few months, years, 20 years.

"As of last month Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signed over all their publishing for Bitter Sweet Symphony.

“Which is a truly kind and magnanimous thing to do, they didn't need to do it.

"As of last month, thank you so much Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, for acknowledging me as the writer of a f------ masterpiece - it'll live forever.”

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