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Filmmaker Disputes Sony’s Claim to Tape of Beatles’ 1st U.S. Concert

MANHATTAN (CN) - Sony blocked a documentary filmmaker from using footage of the Beatles' first U.S. concert by falsely claiming ownership of the 35-minute tape at the 11th hour, the filmmaker claims in a $100 million lawsuit.

Ace Arts sued Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Apple Corps Ltd. in Federal Court.

Ace says it planned to distribute its film, "The Beatles: The Lost Concert," about the band's impact in America "from the vantage point of the group's first United States concert" in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11, 1964.

Ace claims: "The company that funded, taped, and exhibited the D.C. Concert allowed to film of the concert (the 'Tape') to be transferred without copyright protection. No copyright was ever filed on the performances recorded on the tape or the tape itself."

Parts of the 35-minute tape are included in the 86-minute documentary.

But Sony/ATV Music Publishing, "to curry favor with defendant Apple (Corps Limited), asserted spurious copyright infringement threats with respect to a public domain tape of the D.C. concert included in the documentary," the filmmaker claims.

Ace, a New York City-based filmmaker, says it contracted with more than 500 theaters across the country, sold tickets and promoted the documentary, which was to debut at the Ziegfeld Theater on May 6, 2011. It spent more than $1 million producing the documentary, and hoped for a box office draw of more than $50 million.

But "at the eleventh hour, before the early May premier, Sony/ATV, at the insistence of, and in conspiracy with, Apple Corps, wrongly interfered with the distribution contract by making false statements directly to Screenvision (and likely others) concerning Ace's legal right to exhibit the documentary," the lawsuit states. It claims that Sony also threatened legal action and filed a baseless lawsuit in England.

Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The concert was filmed by National General Corp., an insurance and entertainment company. A copy of the tape was first published in 1974 and sold without copyright protection. NGC's chairman Eugene Klein transferred ownership of the tape to Malcolm Klein, also an NGC executive. NGC's successor, American Financial Co., eventually liquidated the company's assets in 1974 and 1975.

James Karnbach acquired the tape in 1987 and made a betacam copy of it, then sold the original to Apple Corps in 1995. Two transfers of the tape were made before 1989 without copyright notice, according to the complaint.

Sony/ATV claims copyrights to eight songs and four cover versions of songs written by other musicians.

The tape appeared as part of a film that Apple Corps offered exclusively on iTunes Store as part of a promotion for the release of "The Beatles Anthology" on the web-based sales platform.

Sony's actions caused Screenvision to refuse to distribute the film, and Ziegfield Theater and others to stop ticket sales and cancel showings, Ace says in the lawsuit.

"The public lost the opportunity lost the opportunity to see a documentary of educational value for pop culture history generally and U.S.-British cultural cross-pollination and The Beatles and British Invasion historical aspects in particular," the lawsuit states.

It claims the film of the concert "is arguably the single most important concert The Beatles ever performed and widely recognized as having immense historical importance to the public record in this field."

Sony/ATV, based in New York, is half owned by Sony Corp. and half owned by the estate of Michael Jackson. Apple Corps Ltd. Is a British company.

Ace seeks $100 million for violations of the Sherman Act, interference with contract and unfair competition. It also seeks a declaration that neither Sony/ATV nor Apple has any rights that would be infringed by commercial exploitation of the tape, and that Sony misused its copyrights on the songs.

Ace is represented by Lee Squitieri with Squitieri & Fearon.

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