Paul McCartney is suing Sony Music Publishing to get back the 251 songs he wrote with John Lennon. This is just a short time after Sony bought up Michael Jackson’s share of their company. Jackson bought the Beatles catalog in 1987 and used it as his personal bank until the day he died. In 1995, he merged his own company with Sony’s then very small music publisher in exchange for desperately needed cash. Jackson was then settling personal lawsuits.
McCartney never forgave Jackson for buying the Beatles catalog behind his back. No matter what he says now, it was always a sticking point. At one point, McCartney, frustrated, wanted to reverse the songwriting credit so it read McCartney-Lennon on songs he wrote alone like “Yesterday.” For the last 30 years, the ownership of his own music has dogged McCartney.
According to copyright law, McCartney would be able to start getting back some of the songs as their status terminated, by filing notices. He was so keen on this that he started filing in 2008 for songs that would become available in 2018. But a similar case involving Duran Duran in the British courts was botched, and apparently McCartney and his lawyers– brother in law, John Eastman, and nephew Lee Eastman– didn’t want the same thing to happen to them. So they’ve made a pre-emptive strike against Sony by filing suit.
“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. “Defendants’ affiliates did, however, oppose at least one other artist’s terminations of transfers under the terms of the 1976 Copyright Act.” That would be Duran Duran.
In heaven, Michael Jackson must be having a fit. The whole snatching of the Beatles catalog allowed him to carry on with abandon, spending money he didn’t have, borrowing millions, and living as if the future didn’t matter. The sale to Sony last year (the deal was only finalized this past September) was something he would have abhorred. But once again, Michael’s lawyer, John Branca, must have seen this train coming down the tracks. Branca cut a great for Michael’s kids, selling for a reported $750 million.
If Sony loses the Beatles catalog in 2018, the next question will be: who will administer it? McCartney could administer his side of it through his MPL company. (Lennon’s reps already made a deal for his side to stay with Sony.) Or another hungry publisher, like Universal, which sells McCartney, Lennon, and Beatles albums via its record company, could come calling.
It’s a long and winding road.