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Paul McCartney Files Suit to Get the Beatles’ Songs Back

Jo Hale, Getty Images
Jo Hale, Getty Images

Paul McCartney is suing Sony/ATV in an effort to reclaim the copyright on his earliest songs, decades after he lost control of the Beatles catalog to Michael Jackson.

Sony/ATV completed purchase of this cache of legendary tunes last year, just before McCartney became eligible to reassert partial ownership again based on a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. Since then, Sony/ATV has apparently ignored McCartney’s requests to discuss a future transfer.

“Paul McCartney has today filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York against Sony/ATV to confirm his ownership in his U.S. reversionary copyrights – which are granted to him by U.S. copyright law – in the songs he wrote with John Lennon and recorded with the Beatles,” a McCartney spokesperson tells Pitchfork.

According to the Copyright Act, tracks written before 1978 – which include all of the Beatles’ output – revert back to the composers after 56 years. His earliest work with Lennon would become available in 2018, then continue reverting yearly through the anniversary of the Beatles’ dissolution in 2025.

TMZ first reported that McCartney had filed “legal docs” to force Sony/ATV’s hand. “McCartney’s tried numerous times to get confirmation Sony will transfer the rights without a fight,” TMZ said, “but says he kept getting the run around.”

Sony/ATV issued a statement tonight saying the company 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 and 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.”

Rights to Beatles tunes will still be controlled outside the U.S. by Sony/ATV, and McCartney will only receive 50 percent ownership since he shared composing credit with Lennon. His widow Yoko Ono reportedly struck a deal in 1990 – 10 years after Lennon was tragically murdered – to keep control through the duration of the copyright.

This saga actually dates back to 1985, when the late Jackson memorably out-maneuvered McCartney to purchase the Beatles’ catalog. A former musical partner of McCartney’s, Jackson ended up paying more than $47 million to buy ATV, the company that had owned the Beatles copyrights since 1967. Jackson then sold half of his share to Sony for $100 million a decade later.

The remainder of his interest in the old songs was then purchased by Sony/ATV in 2016 for some $750 million, as Jackson’s estate tried to offset mounting debts.

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