Paul McCartney reclaims copyright of The Beatles’ most famous songs
Former Beatle Paul McCartney has recently filed a lawsuit against music publisher Sony/ATV in an effort to regain his copyright ownership on some of The Beatles’ most famous songs, including ‘Love Me Do’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Let It Be’ and ‘All You Need Is Love’. The songs in question were mainly written by John Lennon and McCartney himself.
McCartney has decided to invoke the so-called ‘copyright termination’ provision of the United States Copyright Act, which entails a ground for authors to reclaim copyright ownership after a certain period of time.
Michael Jackson has played a significant role in this case. In 1985, Jackson bought the music publishing company ATV for the total amount of US$47.5 million (m). At the time, ATV owned the copyright on almost the entire Beatles repertoire. Ironically, this deal was suggested by McCartney himself. According to McCartney, investing in copyright ownership on songs would be a money-making business.
Jackson invested an estimated amount of US$50m in the company, which resulted in unquestionable financial success. After receiving considerable royalties, he sold half of the rights to Sony for US$90m. This ended up becoming one of the world’s biggest music publishers, known as joint venture Sony/ATV Music. Later on in the process, Sony/ATV also bought the remaining rights to popular Beatles songs from Michael Jackson’s estate.
US Copyright Act is not applicable to contracts under British Law
British band Duran Duran previously tried to regain copyright on its songs through legal means; however, in that case, the British courts ruled the inapplicability of American law on contracts made under British law. There is no comparable provision for copyright termination under British law, which could be the reason that McCartney is turning his case to an American judge.
McCartney is now invoking the US Copyright Act to regain copyright on his songs. The Act states that songs made before 1978 are bound to a term of 56 years after which the rights can be regained. McCartney and Lennon’s songs were written between 1962 and 1971, which means that the copyright on The Beatles’ first song ‘Love Me Do’ would have to be retransferred to the original authors in 2018. McCartney is also hoping to get a declaratory judgement that states he is not committing any breach of contract by exercising termination rights.
Sony/ATV has publicly voiced its disappointment in McCartney’s legal action, stating “Sony/ATV has the highest respect for Sir Paul McCartney with whom we have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship with respect to the treasured Lennon & McCartney song catalog. We have collaborated closely with both Sir Paul and the late John Lennon’s Estate for decades to protect, preserve and promote the catalog’s long-term value. We are disappointed that they have filed this lawsuit, which we believe is both unnecessary and premature.”
We will have to wait and see what the judgment of the American courts will be, along with the consequences the judgement will have on the music industry. We will keep you updated on the progress of this case.
Dominique Nijssen works in Novagraaf’s Competence Centre in Amsterdam.Tweet