Amagansett resident and world-renowned musician Paul McCartney is currently trying to reclaim control of the songs he wrote with The Beatles from Sony/ATV.
According to the US Copyright Act of 1976, an artist is allowed to reclaim their material after 56 years, which is approaching for McCartney in 2018. Back in December of 2015, McCartney filed a termination notice for 32 of his songs, including “Come Together,” “Carry That Weight” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” which makes them eligible for reclamation. The problem that surfaces with McCartney’s attempts is that some of the songs he’s trying to reclaim have a termination date in 2025, as they were written during the later years of the band—this leaves only songs written between 1962 and 1964 up for reclamation.
The ownership of The Beatles’ catalogue is a long, complicated history consisting of repeated changes in ownership and mergers of companies. It begins in 1963 with McCartney alongside John Lennon, manager Brian Epstein and publisher Dick James founding their own company, Northern Songs, which focused primarily on the publishing of Lennon and McCartney’s songs. However, in 1969 James sold his share of Northern Songs to British company Associated Television (ATV). McCartney and Lennon failed to reclaim the rights at that time.
By 1985, pop star Michael Jackson bought ATV, taking ownership of The Beatles’ catalogue of songs and forever soiling his friendship with his then pal and “Say Say Say” cowriter and co-performer, McCartney.
Jackson would maintain ownership of the songs for the next two decades, within that time merging half of his share with Sony, forming Sony/ATV. By 2006, Jackson made another deal with Sony, allowing the company to buy Jackson’s remaining half of Sony/ATV. It wasn’t until last week that Jackson’s estate sold ATV to Sony for $750 million, giving Sony full control of the largest music publisher in the world.
It would seem that it will be another two years until McCartney can potentially begin to reclaim his prized work from Sony/ATV, though the subject will always be one of contention. Considering that the Copyright Act only functions in the United States, if McCartney does regain ownership, it will only be in the US, while Sony/ATV maintains ownership everywhere else in the world.