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Paul McCartney takes battle for Beatles songs to copyright office

27 March 2016

From The Washington Post:

Well into his eighth decade, Paul McCartney has a lot to be thankful for. Though he recently was denied entry to Tyga’s post-Grammys party, he is a living legend: one of two surviving Beatles and the co-writer of much of the band’s material. Yet, one prize remains beyond McCartney’s grasp. He lost his publishing rights to the Beatles’ catalogue decades ago and, despite years of wrangling that included a tiff with Michael Jackson, has been unable to get them back.

Now, McCartney has fired another fusillade in his battle to reclaim his music. As Billboard first reported, records show McCartney, taking advantage of a law that allows singers to reclaim publishing rights after 56 years, filed a “notice of termination” with the U.S. Copyright Office. The songs on the table include many Beatles masterworks, including “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” — and, for the record, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” one of John Lennon’s least-favorite Beatles songs.

Publishing rights are, more or less, the right to “exploit” a song — to, for example, license it to a film, TV show or video game. The vast majority of McCartney’s work with the Beatles was credited to “Lennon-McCartney” — but, as the BBC noted, the singers lost their publishing rights in the 1960s when ATV, a publishing company they created with the other Beatles, their manager and outside investors, was sold without their knowledge.

. . . .

“In order to reclaim publishing ownership of a song, a songwriter must file with the U.S. Copyright Office, terminating the publishing anywhere from 2 to 10 years before the 56 years elapse, in order to obtain ownership of that song’s publishing in a timely manner. (If the writer doesn’t put in a notice within that window, they have another five-year period to reclaim the copyrights but each day’s delay adds another day that the publisher owns the copyright.)”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Here’s an article that explains the law in greater detail.

Copyright/Intellectual Property

9 Comments to “Paul McCartney takes battle for Beatles songs to copyright office”

  1. When Googling a few days ago I found the following http://copyright.gov/title17/92chap2.html which seems – along with some of the other things I found – to say authors of books have a reversion right after 35 years.

    You are saying 56 years, though possibly in respect of 1960s works. I admit to profound ignorance on this subject but which is right? Is it a matter of whether the the work was originally published before or after 1978?

    If it’s 35 years for post 1978 authors should already be giving notice of termination.

    • The article PG linked to covers that in the section headed Terminating Post-1977 Author Grants & Assignments. Yes, the right of reversion is after 35 years for post-1977 works, but notice must be filed not less than two years or more than ten years before the 35 year mark. So 25 to 33 years after the original publication date. This, of course, is US law.

  2. The parts I never understood…how could Michael Jackson buy the catalog way back when and Sir Paul couldn’t?

    And, was Dick James an a****** or did he believe he was acting in the best interests of The Fabs?


    • Ashley McConnell

      I suspect Jackson had more money. As for the second question, I suspect Dick James was acting in the best interests of Dick James; otherwise the band would have known what was going on. JMO.

    • The Jackson/McCartney thing is particularly ugly if you consider that they were friends at the time. The Beatles catalogue came up for sale. McCartney told Jackson he was going to bid on it, and (because Sir Paul isn’t the best businessman) how much he was going to bid. Jackson outbid him, ending the friendship,, and gaining ownership of the catalogue, which helped sustain him through the lean years post-legal problems. That’s one reason the Jackson estate is worth so much. Jackson didn’t just buy the Beatles, he bought other catalogues as well. (See MIchael Jackson, Inc for more information..)

  3. If the law gives the songwriter that option, and McCartney takes it, why is it a battle?

    He files appropriate notice in the right place at the right time – and it should be his again.

    • I suspect that the battle is going to be over the fact that approximately 750 million dollars was spent on the music catalogue and McCartney is going to be getting some of that value back. Without having to pay them anything. I don’t think they’re going to let even parts of any copyrights get away without a fight.

  4. The most overrated songwriter in the history of music. Terry Gross had this guy on a few years ago when he was promoting a book of poetry. He read a poem or two and I couldn’t believe how banal the material was. Hey Jude is one of the most agonizing songs to listen to ever. And yet folks continue to worship this guy like he’s Jim Webb, Leonard Cohen, Springsteen, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Hank Williams, et al. Give me a break.
    Now, John Lennon; that’s a different story. Guy had talent. IMO.

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