MANHATTAN (CN) – Paul McCartney, long frustrated by the fact he doesn’t own the rights to most of his best-known songs, sued Sony/ATV Music Publishing on Wednesday in a bid to regain the rights to Beatles’ hits classics he wrote himself or co-wrote with John Lennon.
In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan McCartney claims his ownership interests are protected by Section 304(c) of the 1976 Copyright Act, which gives songwriters who assigned or transferred their copyright interests prior to January 1, 1978, the non-waivable right to terminate those transfers and reclaim their copyright interests.
The 1976 Copyright Act extended the ownership term for works created before January 1, 1978, by 19 years, for a total of 75 years from the date the copyright was originally secured.
McCartney is asking the federal court for two determinations: first, his exercise of his termination rights does not represent a breach of any publishing agreements; and secondly, that the publishing agreements are unlawful and/or unenforceable against McCartney to the extent that they conflict his termination notices.
According to the complaint, McCartney’s counsel began serving termination notices to Sony/ATV in October 2008.
Each termination notice was signed by McCartney’s attorney Lee Eastman.
In December 2016, McCartney’s Eastman sent a letter to Sony/ATV asking the music publisher to confirm that they did not intend to take legal action over the termination notices; Sony/ATV refused to do so..
The Beatles’ early material, including their first singles “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You,” were published by Ardmore & Beechwood, Ltd.
The bulk of the Beatles’ song catalogue was published by Northern Songs Limited.
Northern Songs was founded in 1963 by music publisher Dick James, Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to publish songs written by Lennon and McCartney, as well as the other two Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
McCartney and Lennon each owned approximately 20 percent of Northern Songs; with the remaining 60 percent being jointly owned by Dick James Music and NEMS Enterprises Limited, a subsidiary of a business started by Brian Epstein’s family.
(The original business was a furniture and record store in Liverpool. It was while working behind the counter in the record department that Epstein was asked whether he had anything by a local band by the Beatles. Intrigued by the customer’s enthusiasm for the band, Epstein made his way to the nearby Cavern Club to see the Beatles for himself. The rest, as they say, is history.)
McCartney reportedly once said of Epstein “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”
The catalog passed between corporate entities throughout the 1970s and 1980s, before coming up for sale in 1985.
McCartney wanted to buy his songs back then, but he famously advised Michael Jackson, then at the height of his own fame, that investing in lucrative song catalogs was a wise investment.
Jackson bought the Beatle catalog for $41.5 million later than year, and after his publishing group merged with Sony Music is December 1995, the new company was rechristened Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Sony became the sole owner in 2016.
According to its website, Sony/ATV has administered publishing for EMI since 2012.
Representatives from Sony/ATV did not return requests for comment immediately.
McCartney’s complaint was filed by Michael Jacobs of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, California.