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Why David Bowie was sued for £1m by his former producer


Most people consider ‘Space Oddity’ not just to be David Bowie’s first real hit, but also the most memorable song in his discography. It’s unique and incredibly well-written, and of course, it’s a fan favourite. But for all that people already know about the track, there are plenty of details that have come up after the fact, including a 2002 royalties debacle.

The original song was released in 1969, and it was produced by Gus Dudgeon. You may also know him as the producer of ‘Your Song’ by Elton John. In 2002, he and royalties investigator David Morgan, who handled the case, claimed that he was only paid a £250 advance for his work on ‘Space Oddity’.

Since its recording and release, the song has experienced many surges in popularity over the years. It reached No 5 on the charts when the BBC used it in coverage of the first moon landing the year of its release, but it also got to No 1 with a re-release in 1975. With the success of the song, it makes sense that Dudgeon would want his royalties. The issue? Allegedly, according to Morgan, he was promised 2%, but didn’t see any return despite the success of the song.

When Dudgeon commented on the situation, he had this to say, “The business I’m in is extremely mercenary and has no regard for people anymore. I’ve been trying to do something about the situation for years, but I’ve always drawn a blank. Launching any legal action is prohibitively expensive and the record companies count on most people not being able to afford it. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to mount such a legal action.”

He also said, “When I started producing in the Sixties I was very green. It was only when I started seeing decent royalties rolling in from my Elton records that I realised the true value of that track.”

Getting down to specifics, Dudgedown sued David Bowie for a one-off settlement of £1 million, although he also suggested an alternative that included a more complicated cut of earnings, plus interest and damages stretching back 30 years. However, after passing away that same year at 59, the executors of his estate determined that he would have been entitled to more including damages, effectively upping the lawsuit to £6 million instead of £1 million.

It’s still unclear how the suit was settled, but if you’re curious to listen to the song that inspired the dispute once more, you can take a glance back at ‘Space Oddity’.