Michael Jackson bought Beatles catalog in 1985
His estate is selling its share to Sony
Paul McCartney has opportunity to buy it back
When news broke that the Michael Jackson estate would sell its 50 percent share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing to Sony in a $750 million deal, many wondered whether Paul McCartney would finally be able to acquire the rights to his share of the company’s crown jewel – the Lennon-McCartney catalog – since it begins coming up for reversion in 2018.
Billboard can confirm that as of December 15, 2015, he has already begun the process.
To recap, at some point during the early ’80s heyday of McCartney’s friendship with Jackson, he pointed out the value of music publishing. Jackson soon received a tip that ATV Music – publisher of the Beatles’ Lennon-McCartney songs, among many others – was available, and purchased it for $47.5 million in 1985. McCartney had long coveted his Beatles catalog – he and Lennon lost out to ATV in a 1969 attempt to purchase Northern Songs, their original publisher – and he never forgave Jackson for what he considered a betrayal of their friendship.
It’s an opportunity McCartney is not going to let slip past him again. The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 gave songwriters the ability to recapture the publishers’ share of their songs, and in the case of titles written before 1978, writers can recapture songs after two consecutive 28-year terms, or 56 years. (That legislation allows for writers of songs issued in or after 1978 to recapture their publishing after 35 years.)
The Lennon-McCartney catalog begins hitting the 56-year mark in 2018.
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.)
Billboard has confirmed that on December 15, 2015, McCartney filed a termination notice of 32 songs with the U.S. Copyright Office. Additionally, another source confirmed that he has filed termination notices for his songs that were issued on Beatles records from 1962-1964, although many of the titles he has moved to terminate were issued much later, including the 1969 and 1970 songs “Come Together,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” and seven other songs on the Abbey Road album, as well as the single tracks Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John & Yoko.”
Most of the songs carry a termination date in October 2025, while “Get Back” carries a termination date of April 18, 2025; and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” on June 17, 2025.
According to the filing with U.S. Copyright Office, McCartney sent Sony/ATV Tunes LLC a notice of termination of grand under 17 USC section 304(C) on December 15 by certified mail.
While many of the titles are widely acknowledged to be solo Lennon compositions – the duo continued to share songwriter credit for the duration of the Beatles’ existence – the Act applies just to McCartney’s share. “Only the McCartney half of the Lennon/McCartney songs are eligible for termination, and only for the U.S.,” an insider explained to Billboard, adding, “Sony/ATV still owns (those) Beatles songs in the rest of the world.”
In the case of Lennon, who died in 1980, the publisher’s portion of his share of the Lennon-McCartney catalog for songs written in 1962 became eligible for reversion in 1990, because his death occurred during the first 28-year copyright term. However, in 2009, sources told Billboard that Sony/ATV cut a deal with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, prior to the reversion dates that enabled it to retain its publisher’s share for the life of the copyright, which lasts for 70 years after the author’s death. But where there are co-writers, the countdown begins after the last author dies. As Paul McCartney is still alive, the clock hasn’t begun to tick yet.
Asked whether Sony overpaid for Sony/ATV given the coming reversion, the insider said no – half of the Lennon-McCartney publishing for the world excluding the U.S. is not chump change by any measure.
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