Sony Faces Suit Over Beatles Footage for Documentary

Umbrellas are placed over the statute of the Beatles on the waterfront in Liverpool, England, as the city prepared in 2017 for the half-centenary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” one of the band’s most influential albums. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Over half a century since the start of the British Invasion, a New York film company threw down the gauntlet in federal court Wednesday over rights to footage of the Beatles’ first U.S. concert.

Held for just 35 minutes at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11, 1964, the 12-song performance is described in the complaint as “the single most important concert The Beatles ever performed.”

Represented by the law firm Squitieri & Feron, SoHo-based Ace Arts says it owns the rights to a never-released documentary on the concert, produced by an award-making team of filmmakers to the tune of $1 million.

On the eve of the film’s premiere, however, Sony/ATV Music Publishing blocked commercial release with a 2011 lawsuit in the United Kingdom.

The filmmaker notes that no copyright was ever filed on the original concert footage but that Sony/ATV asserted copyright ownership of the compositions themselves that the Beatles performed.

Ace Arts does not specify how the U.K. case resolved but it says the countersuit it filed against Sony/ATV was dismissed without prejudice.

In its latest suit, it says the 2015 judgment in the U.K. case offered suggestions on how it could change the original footage of the Beatles concert to pass qualify as fair use.

Three years later, Ace Arts allegedly has a new distributor interested in a re-edit of the original documentary. Insisting that “the re-edit has enhanced the transformative nature of the original documentary,” Ace Arts wants a judge to rule that it can incorporate concert footage into the film without a license.

In addition to asserting that the underlying compositions have been brought into the public domain through unprotected, unchallenged publications of the tape, Ace Arts says its re-edit constitutes a fair use.

Neither Squitieri nor Sony have responded to requests for comment.

The suit against Sony comes just over a year after Beatles star Paul McCartney sued to reclaim rights to 260 of the songs. The songwriter reached a confidential settlement with Sony later that year.

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