UPDATED To say the least, last week’s announcement that Sony-ATV Music Publishing and Paul McCartney had settled over Paul’s portion of the rights to the Beatles songs in the US came as a huge surprise. In January, Paul had sued Sony saying he was taking back his copyrights as their terms lapsed. Sony balked, saying it was still looking at the situation. Sony had no intention of settling quickly, and was making Paul stew a bit in legal channels.
All of a sudden, last week, Sony caved. The announcement came from McCartney’s lawyer. Although their settlement is confidential, it’s likely similar to the one made by the John Lennon estate. Paul gets his rights back — the ones lost to Michael Jackson in 1985– on 251 Lennon & McCartney songs. In exchange, Sony -ATV gets to administer the rights and collect a fee.
But why settle so out of the blue? It turns out Sony-ATV has lost the rights to Bruce Springsteen’s music publishing in the UK. That huge and profitable catalog is going to Universal Music Publishing. Everything from “Because the Night” to “Fire” to “Born to Run” is in that package. So is “Blinded by the Light” and “Glory Days.” The very short, catchy Springsteen songs are worth a bloody fortune to publishers. (Springsteen’s publishing in the US was with Downtown Music publishing. That goes to Universal as well.)
Springsteen’s recording contract stays with Sony-Columbia Records. McCartney recently returned his whole recording catalog to Capitol/Universal. (Paul’s solo songs are not part of his new deal. He owns the publishing to things like “Band on the Run” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.” John’s solo songs like “Imagine” are also run by a different company, Downtown Music.)
Publishing royalties are where the money is in the music business. That’s why Michael Jackson held the Beatles catalog so close to the vest for years, borrowing hundreds of millions against it. McCartney was taught well by his late father in law, Lee Eastman, a genius who knew the value of a copyright. Lee and his son John were the ones who guided Paul to buy big catalogs of other people– like Buddy Holly– when his own songs slipped away.
Universal Publishing no doubt paid top dollar for Springsteen. Sony was likely unable to match that money while holding on to Paul. In a sense, everyone won.