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96-Year-Old Makes Bank Off 'Sweet Lorraine' Single

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on September 03, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A 96-year-old songwriter behind the love ballad "Oh Sweet Lorraine" is striking auditory gold. Fred Stobaugh's chart-topping tearjerker is about his late wife of 75 years [insert your "aw!" here].

The song, performed by singer Jacob Colgan, has sold more than 100,000 copies on iTunes, which is more than Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus' newest singles, reports TMZ.

But how is the ol' romantic raking in the dough from the song?

Most people think that whoever actually makes a creative work owns the copyright in that work, but that often isn't the case. Artists, authors, and musicians can transfer copyright ownership or license certain rights of copyright ownership to other parties. Sometimes multiple people can also simultaneously have ownership of the copyright in a creative work.

Stobaugh, who submitted the song's lyrics for a competition in Illinois, likely doesn't own the rights to the song -- but does receive a cut of the profits. He's reportedly receiving the lion's share of the profits as the lyricist, according to TMZ.

Digital Downloads

Stobaugh is making his money from his marital masterpiece through royalties from iTunes downloads. Whether digital downloads count as sales or licenses is a hotly contested issue in the copyright world.

Songwriters use licenses to allow others to distribute or perform their songs for a fee. A license does not transfer copyright ownership. Licenses may be exclusive or nonexclusive and can be restricted by factors such as purpose, territory, duration, and media.

An actual sale, on the other hand, gives a copyright owner's bundle of rights away. It transfers ownership.

Before the advent of the digital revolution, artists received a different royalty rate for "sales," which covered CD's, vinyl and tapes, and "licenses," which included other various uses. Licenses were awarded a much higher royalty rate.

Artists that signed contracts near or after the digital music boom have set royalty rates for digital downloads and other products like ringtones. So in all likelihood, Stobaugh's royalty rates are well-settled and clearly defined.

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