This December, the estate of Whitney Houston plans to sell a demo recorded by then 17-year-old Whitney Houston, minted as a NFT on the OneOf sales platform. The-never-before-heard-track will be unveiled on December 1st during Miami Art week (held from November 29 to December 5, 2021).
According to OneOf’s press release, the “Whitney Houston OneOf Collection” being auctioned will include “thousands of affordable, fixed-price NFTs”, including video artworks designed around two of the biggest hits throughout Houston’s career: “The Greatest Love of All” and “I Will Always Love You”. NFTs containing archival photos from Houston’s early life are also among the collection. As to the never-before-released demo which is perhaps the most attractive collectible for Houston’s fans, details are yet to be released, but is rumored to be bundled with photos and video artworks.
While the rarely-seen contents in these “Whitney Houston collectibles” are exciting for Houston’s fans, the legal landscape remains vague, and as we saw with the recent complaint Miramax brought against Quentin Tarantino, these NFTs are giving rise to lawsuits in connection with the ownership of the rights underlying the contents in those NFTs. For instance, the copyright ownership of a recording can be allocated to several people and/or entities at the same time, and if one probes into the copyright ownership underlying Houston’s recording of “I will Always Love You”, he or she would discover that the recording may implicate the copyrights of the following parties, including but not limited to:
(a) Dolly Parton, who is the original writer and composer of the song, is entitled to receive royalties whenever the song is performed;
(b) the record label, by which Houston was retained to perform the song, would have the sound recording copyright; and/or
(c) BMI, which, as the performing rights organization that acquired rights from copyright owners (i.e., Dolly Parton and/or the record label that produces the recording), would collect license fees from the users of BMI and distribute the fees (excluding necessary operating expenses) to the owner.
In addition, Houston’s estate might also be entitled to receive “digital performance royalties” from non-interactive digital streaming services (such as Pandora) because Houston was the performer of the recording under applicable laws. Accordingly, to mint a NFT containing Houston’s recording would give rise to certain considerations as such use of the recording might require prior consent or license or might result in statutory-imposed obligations of paying royalties.
Considering the above, it will be interesting to see how this project plays out, and whether the intertwined rights underlying these NFTs will lead to any disputes among the parties.