For most people around the world, the songs “She Loves You, Yesterday, Michelle, Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Hey Jude” are well remembered, if not iconic, the song writing partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as well as the songs of George Harrison, remains some of the most important pop music created. New music fans list them as a favorite each decade. But is the story of how the band lost the publishing rights to their songs, and how the surviving members won those rights back. But is the story of how the band lost the publishing rights to their songs, and how the surviving members won those rights back.
The Early Years of Northern Songs
When the band first released their first single in 1962 and album in 1963, their manager Brian Epstein recruited Dick James to handle the publishing under the created banner of ‘Northern Songs’. Song publishing simply gives the right to broadcast on the radio, television, film or the internet an artists music for a royalty. But in the early and innocent days of Lennon and McCartney, they were naïve to how those business dealings would affect their royalties. This would have far reaching implications over the ownership of the Beatles catalog. Epstein’s arrangement with Dick James gave him ownership of the publishing, with Lennon and McCartney getting 20 percent of the business apiece.
By 1965, Northern Songs became a public company, with Paul and John each owning 15 percent, and Harrison and Starr owning a small percentage. But the band grew dissatisfied as they became more business savvy about past arrangements between Epstein and James. By 1969, long after Epstein’s death, the relationship between James and the band deteriorated and he sold his share of Northern Songs to ATV music, owned by media giant Lew Grade. In spite Lennon and McCartney offering s counter bid, ATV gained control of the catalogue, and by near the end of the year, Lennon and McCartney sold their remaining shares to ATV, leaving them without a financial stake in the publishing of their own songs, yet they still controlled their respective songwriting share. This remained the case throughout the 70s and early 80s.
When Michael Jackson Took Over
When Michael Jackson was collaborating with McCartney in the early eighties, Paul advised Michael to get into song publishing ownership. It has been reported Jackson stated; “I will buy your songs,” to Paul, whom he thought Jackson was joking, he wasn’t. in 1985 ATC music had been acquired by Robert Holmes, and was put up for sale, Paul McCartney tried to buy the publishing for 20 Million, and partnered with Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, suggesting he put up 10 million if Yoko would do the same. But Ono believed they could offer 5 million each and she miscalculated. Jackson’s team purchased ATV’s 4,000-song catalog for 47.5 Million, becoming the owner of roughly 250 Lennon McCartney songs. Paul was not pleased and it affected the relationship with Jackson, but there was nothing he could do.
By 1995, when rumors developed of Jackson having financial troubles, Jackson sold half of ATV to Sony for approximately $100 Million, thus forming ATV/ Sony music publishing, with Jackson and Sony owning 50 percent each. By 2006, with Michael Jackson’s financial problems mounting, and an imminent bankruptcy Sony negotiated a deal where they retained an option to purchase 50 percent of Jackson’s ownership, which left Sony owning 75 percent of the ATV catalog, according to sources, the value of the ATV catalog was projected to be worth 1 Billion. If Jackson had gone bankrupt, his share would have gone to auction in a bankruptcy. In 2009, following Jackson’s sudden death, his share of the catalog came under control of Jackson’s estate.
An Opening Is Found, Intellectual Justice Is Served
By 2016, after Sony announced their intention to trigger their purchase option on Jackson’s stake in the company, Sony agreed to but out the estates full 50 percent share of Sony / ATV for $750 million, making Sony the sole owner of the Lennon-McCartney catalog, as well as the deep catalog of Sony/ATV songs. In 1976, the U.S. Copyright Act allowed songwriters to retain the publishers’ share of their works released before 1978, Paul’s legal team eyed this avenue, when his team filed a lawsuit to achieve that end. In fact, starting in 2015, Paul had started the process and taking the opportunity of the Act, reclaimed 32 of the earliest songs, such as “Love Me Do”, while the process was underway in America, a British court ruled that the U.S. Copyright Act did not apply to Great Britain.
But by 2017, McCartney secured the rights in a private settlement, which Paul’s lawyer Michael Jacobs had announced that Sony and McCartney had “resolved this matter by entering into a confidential settlement agreement, and the lawsuit had been dismissed.” This had been a fifty year mission for Paul McCartney to secure the rights, and thereby, offer a financial legacy to the offspring of The Beatles, their grandchildren, and future generations.