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Matthew Morrison and Li Jun Li perform in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center in New York. - 

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KAI RYSSDAL: In the music business it's not always the songwriter that makes the money. Often its the person or the company that owns the rights to the music. Even if the music in question's really old.

There are reports today that the iconic songs of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein may soon be on the auction block. Rodgers and Hammerstein were behind many of the big Broadway hits of the 1940s and 50s. And their catalog could fetch a couple of hundred million dollars. Marketplace's Amy Scott takes it from here.


AMY SCOTT: When a revival of the musical "South Pacific" opened on Broadway this spring it was an instant hit.

It left theatergoers whistling "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Bali Ha'i" nearly 60 years after their debut.

Leonard Jacobs is national theatre editor of the trade newspaper Backstage.

LEONARD JACOBS: Because it has become such a phenomenal hit, it just proves all over again how valuable the catalog is. Why R&H wouldn't want that revenue stream is sort of beyond me.

R&H is The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.

It makes money by licensing its music for use in everything from commercials to the stage. A spokesman had no comment on reports that the song catalog or even the whole company might be for sale.

R&H is owned by two family trusts. The company is known for guarding the Rogers and Hammerstein legacy.

CEO Ted Chapin reportedly turned down many a "South Pacific" revival before OK-ing the current production.

Broadway producer Roger Berlind says an outside buyer may be less cautious with the brand.

ROGER BERLIND: Someone from the outside might be able to exploit it to a greater extent than they are willing to, but they have to recognize the integrity of the catalog itself and the value of those assets and not denigrate them by over-promotion or having the material presented in a way that they wouldn't be proud of.

Still, Berlind says, so long as no one changes the notes or the lyrics, it shouldn't matter who owns the songs.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports