According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paul McCartney is suing Sony/ATV to regain the rights to some classic Beatles songs using the termination provisions of the Copyright Act. In 1976, Congress lengthened the amount of time that works are under copyright protection to help support artists who signed over publishing rights under bad deals. The act allows authors thirty-five years to reclaim rights, and musicians like Prince, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan have been able to negotiate better deals with increased compensation by threatening termination via the new law.
McCartney is now seeking a declaratory judgment that will restore his copyright ownership to a host of Beatles songs that Jackson had previously bought back in the ’80s including “Let It Be,” “Yesterday,” and “Hey Jude.” After Jackson died, his estate sold his last remaining stakes in these songs back to Sony/ATV. According to the lawsuit, McCartney has been attempting to regain rights to these songs for almost ten years by “serving and recording termination notices.” McCartney’s camp is hoping to regain the rights as early as fall of next year.
But a new ruling in a UK court might halt the entire process. When Duran Duran pursued legal action to regain their rights under the Copyright Act, the English court decided that a British contract law superseded any revisions or termination that American law allowed. The language in the suit indicates that Sony might be hoping for a similar outcome in this case. But by filing this suit, McCartney is seeking to have an American court decide the case, not a British one, and rule that “the statutory termination right supersedes any contractual right.”
Meanwhile, Sony’s previous negotiations for John Lennon’s share of the copyright reveal that they’ll maintain that right for as long as the copyright is in place. The two sides have been in negotiation for some time now, and Sony’s lawyer said they had no desire to litigate, but they have not been able to reach a deal that both sides can agree on, so to court they go.
Here is Sony’s statement on the lawsuit:
“Sony/ATV has the highest respect for Sir Paul McCartney with whom we have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship with respect to the treasured Lennon & McCartney song catalog. We have collaborated closely with both Sir Paul and the late John Lennon’s Estate for decades to protect, preserve and promote the catalog’s long-term value. We are disappointed that they have filed this lawsuit which we believe is both unnecessary and premature.”
The full lawsuit is available for perusal here.