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Paul McCartney Sues Sony to Reclaim Beatles Song Rights

Variety logo Variety 1/19/2017 Ted Johnson
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Paul McCartney filed a lawsuit against Sony/ATV Music Publishing, seeking a court’s declaration that he can reclaim outright many of his The Beatles compositions from the 1960s and 70s.

In his lawsuit, filed in a New York federal court, McCartney cites The Beatles songs that he and John Lennon jointly created from 1962 to 1971, noting that during that time they typically assigned their copyright interests to publishers in exchange for royalties.

A provision of the Copyright Act allows authors and co-authors to reclaim the copyrights in their works after a set period of time, provided that they serve termination notices on the current rights holder. One aspect of the law gives authors who transferred their interests in their works before Jan. 1, 1978, the ability to reclaim the rights.

The works at issue include some of The Beatles’ best known songs, including “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Thank You Girl,” “Bad to Me,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “All You Need Is Love.”

McCartney began to serve termination notices in October 2008. The terminations begin to be effective in 2018.

“For years following the service of the first termination notices, defendants gave no indication to Paul McCartney that they contested the efficacy of Paul McCartney’s termination notices,” the lawsuit states. But McCartney’s lawsuit notes that Sony/ATV did challenge termination notices made by Duran Duran in a lawsuit filed in the United Kingdom. The High Court concluded that Duran Duran made agreements that precluded them from exercising their termination rights, but they based their decision on English law and “did not explicitly refer to U.S. termination rights,” according to McCartney’s lawsuit.

McCartney notes in the lawsuit that Sony/ATV executives “indicated to Paul McCartney’s representatives that Sony/ATV would try to use” the Duran Duran decision against him.

Although Martin Bandier, Sony/ATV chairman and CEO, acknowledged that McCartney’s termination notices were valid, McCartney’s attorneys are seeking assurances that the publisher still will not take legal action against him. Otherwise, McCartney’s lawsuit stated, litigation would cloud his title to The Beatles’ works.

“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 U.K.,” McCartney’s lawsuit claims. “If that goes as defendants hope, defendants evidently intend to challenge Paul McCartney’s exercise of his termination rights on similar contractual grounds.”

A spokeswoman for Sony/ATV said, in a statement, “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.”

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