Photo by Jim Bennett
Last March, it was reported that Paul McCartney had begun the process that would allow him to legally regain the rights to his portion of The Beatles’ catalog from Sony/ATV. Facing resistance from the music publishing company, McCartney has now filed a lawsuit in a New York court seeking a judgement affirming that he’ll regain ownership to the songs he co-wrote with John Lennon by the end of 2018.
McCartney is invoking the US Copyright Act of 1976 in his argument. The legislation allows for songwriters to reclaim copyrights 56 years after a legal transfer by filing a termination notice. With the earliest Lennon-McCartney compositions hitting that mark on October 18th, 2018, Macca has issued numerous such notices to Sony/ATV over the last decade. However, the company has refused to acknowledge his rights, hence the new lawsuit. “For years following service of the first Termination Notices, Defendants gave no indication to Paul McCartney that they contested the efficacy of Paul McCartney’s Termination Notices,” reads the complaint (via The Hollywood Reporter).
For their its, Sony may be hoping to employ a legal tactic currently being used against Duran Duran in a similar legal situation. In that case, an English court ruled that British interpretations of contract law supersede the US termination law. Essentially, if a British contract says an artist promises not to transfer its stake in a copyright, the artist can’t then try to issue a termination without breaching the original agreement.
According to McCartney’s complaint, Sony/ATV “attempted to reserve Defendants’ right to assert that once Paul McCartney’s terminations go into effect, Paul McCartney will have breached his contractual obligations to Defendants. Rather than provide clear assurances to Paul McCartney that Defendants will not challenge his exercise of his termination rights, Defendants are clearly reserving their rights pending the final outcome of the Duran Duran litigation in the UK.”
This whole mess started in the 1980s when McCartney famously advised Michael Jackson to invest in song publishing rights. Jackson then went out and bought ATV, which owned the Lennon-McCartney catalog. A decade late, Jackson agreed to a merger between ATV and Sony in which the latter gained half his stack. The publishing company acquired the other half from Jackson’s estate in early 2016.
Even if McCartney’s case is successful, Sony/ATV will still own Lennon’s portion of the rights for the lifetime of the copyright — which is 70 years after McCartney’s death. Sony issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
“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.”
You can read the full complaint over at THR.