Behind Paul McCartney’s long and winding road to get his songs back
Last week, Sir Paul McCartney achieved something he lost in 1969 – the ownership of his share of the 206 songs he and John Lennon wrote during their Beatles days.
After initiating a lawsuit in New York against publisher Sony/ATV in January, the pair struck a confidential agreement in the last week of June.
It is not known how it would be decided which of the Lennon-McCartney catalogue belongs solely to McCartney, nor is it clear if the agreement is global or just for the U.S.
On December 15, 2015, McCartney filed a termination notice of 32 songs with the U.S. Copyright Office.
His claim was based on the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, which allowed songwriters to retain the publishers’ share of their copyrighted works released before 1978 after a 56-year period, each in 28-year periods.
For McCartney, that meant that the term for the first Beatles single, Love Me Do, would be up by 2018.
The major classics become eligible in 2026.
But this would only mean McCartney regaining ownership in the US – unless last week’s deal included global terms.
Billboard earlier pointed out an additional issue with Lennon.
According to the 1976 Act, when a writer dies within the first 28-year period, his or her heirs can get back the share at the end of that first period. For The Beatles that was in 1990, and Lennon was murdered in 1980.
Sources told Billboard in 2009 that Sony had cut a deal with his widow Yoko Ono to continue owning Lennon’s share for the rest of the copyright period. That is, 70 years after death.
In Lennon’s case that would be 2050. But if there are co-writers, that only applies from when the last writer dies.
After meeting in July 195 as teenagers, John and Paul informally decided that any song written jointly or separately would be credited together.
But it would be a legal nightmare to work out who wrote what. Earlier on, they composed together. That would change as fame gave them more separate lives.
But Lennon would claim he had a hand even on the most McCartney-type works as Yesterday, Hey Jude and Eleanor Rigby.
Come 1963, before the release of the first Beatles album Please Please Me on which the duo had eight of its 14 songs, their producer George Martin had suggested to their manager Brian Epstein that hey get a publisher.
Epstein – as new to the music industry as the band – arrived at Dick James’ office with an acetate of the song Please Please Me.
Epstein wanted proof that the publisher had some clout.
James picked up the phone, rang up the producer of the influential TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars, played him the song and got The Beatles a spot then and there.
Northern Songs was formed with with Dick James Music with a 50% share, Lennon and McCartney with 20% each and Epstein with 10%.
Northern Songs also published early songs by George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
In 1965, to minimise tax, Northern Songs became a public company. The offer closed in 60 seconds, with Lennon and McCartney owning 15% each, Epstein’s company 7.5%, Dick James 37.5%, Harrison and Starr sharing 1.6% and the rest owned by various financial institutions.
By the next year, 88 Lennon-McCartney songs had been recorded with 2900 cover versions.
Harrison later wrote Only A Northern Song about his annoyance over his reduced cut.
By 1969, two years after the death of Epstein, the relationship between Dick James and the Beatles had soured. James sold his share of Northern Songs to multi-millionaire businessman Lew Grade’s ATV Music.
Lennon and McCartney tried to counter-bid ATV’s, but lost.
ATV Music was later sold in 1982 to a company owned by Robert Holmes a Court, Australia’s first billionaire.
In 1985, ATV Music was put up for sale. Three years before, when McCartney and Michael Jackson recorded their duet Say Say Say, Jackson gained advice from McCartney on the value of publishing.
To Paul’s anger and disappointment, Jackson bought ATV Music’s 4000-strong catalogue for $47.5 million, becoming the owner of about 250 Lennon-McCartney songs.
In 1995, when Jackson ran into financial difficulty, he jettisoned half of ATV to Sony for $100 million. They went into a 50:50 partnership to form Sony/ATV.
In 2006, as Jackson’s finances worsened to the point he faced bankruptcy, Sony stepped in and reduced Jackson’s loan payments on his debts in returned for increasing its stake in Sony/ATV to 75%.
The company was worth $1 billion at the time, according to the New York Times.
Following Jackson’s death in 2009, his share of the Lennon-McCartney catalogue went to his estate,
In 2016, Sony sold out Jackson’s remaining stake in Sony/ATV for $750 million, making it the sole owner of John and Paul’s songs.
Two years before, it was estimated that The Beatles’ total global sales had reached 600 million.
In May 2017, the Sunday Express placed McCartney at the top of its list of wealthiest UK musicians. His fortune was estimated at just under £800 million. Or $1.35 billion in Australian dollars.