McCartney regaining rights to some northern songs

A book about Northern Songs

Paul McCartney is in the process of reclaiming US publishing rights for a huge chunk of The Beatles’ catalogue from Sony/ATV.

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 stipulates that writers of pre-1978 tracks can reclaim their US publishing rights – if they’ve previously signed them away – after 56 years.

That means the publishing rights for McCartney’s share of Beatles songs will begin expiring in 2018 – 56 years after the Fab Four’s first hit, Love Me Do, was penned and recorded in 1962.

Following a Billboard report on Friday (March 18), Music Business Worldwide has trawled the US Copyright Office’s records and discovered that McCartney filed termination notices last year for two batches of Fab Four tracks – ‘All You Need Is Love & 23 Other Titles’, in addition to ‘All Together Now & 32 Other Titles’.

Between them, these filings included hits ranging from “Back In The USSR” to “Helter Skelter”, “Hey Jude”, “I Will”, “Revolution”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Get Back” and “Because”. They will expire in 2024 and 2025.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

Music Business Worldwide has also dug through McCartney’s historical records with the US Copyright Office and discovered that the star has actually filed to terminate Sony/ATV’s US publishing rights to more than 170 Beatles songs in total.

McCartney’s first filing for copyright termination came in October 2008, when he filed for “Love Me Do” – the US publishing rights for which expire on October 5, 2018.

Since then, McCartney has filed a number of additional termination requests for his US publishing share, including a single batch containing no less than 40 compositions in December 2010.

The publisher’s share of John Lennon’s contribution to those early Beatles 1962 songs first became eligible for reversion in 1990 following his death ten years earlier.

Sony is this month spending $750m to fully acquire the ATV catalogue first purchased by Michael Jackson for $41.5m in 1985.

Interestingly, this huge set of songs contains worldwide publishing rights to The Beatles songs.

Although Sony/ATV is now set to lose a chunk of these rights to McCartney over the next ten years, it is understood that the publisher will hold on to the rights outside of the US market.

Paul McCartney’s owned copyrights are managed by his own MPL Communications, which in turn is an administration client of Kobalt. According to Companies House filings, McCartney is a minority shareholder in Kobalt Music Group.

Read the rest of the story over at Music Business Worldwide, with listings of the songs and information about the Sony/ATV copyright expiration.

Please note that all this only deals with the USA copyrights, copyright legislation is different for each country. Additionally, several European countries are mutually bound by joint EU copyright legislation.

Northern Songs Ltd was a limited company founded in 1963, by music publisher Dick James, Brian Epstein, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to publish songs written by Lennon and McCartney, as well as songs written by George Harrison and Ringo Starr, who were all members of the Beatles. Their producer, George Martin, was offered a stake in the company but turned it down, as he believed that his position at EMI made it a potential conflict of interest. In 1965, it was decided to make Northern Songs a public company, to save on capital gains tax.

After Epstein died in 1967, Lennon and McCartney sought to renegotiate their publishing deal with James, but early in 1969 James and his partner sold their shares in Northern Songs to Britain’s Associated Television (ATV), giving no warning to the four Beatles and their record company, Apple Corps Ltd. Lennon and McCartney attempted to gain ownership of the publishing rights, but their bid to gain control failed, as the financial power of Lew Grade ensured that Northern Songs passed into the control of ATV. Allen Klein (then de facto Beatles’ manager) attempted to set up a deal for Apple Corps to buy out ATV, but this also failed.

In the early eighties, McCartney informed Michael Jackson about the financial value of music publishing, as Jackson had enquired about the process of acquiring songs and how songs were used. According to McCartney, Jackson then said, “I’m going to get yours [Beatles’ songs]”. Northern Songs was later purchased by Jackson, although both McCartney and Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, were notified of the sale, but did not bid themselves. Apparently, Ono was pleased that the publishing rights were held by family friend, Michael Jackson, and McCartney didn’t want to bid on his own, since the compositions were originally labeled both McCartney and Lennon. One can understand that if he had bought the entire catalogue, it would not have fared well with Lennon fans.

It turned out Ono had actually encouraged Jackson to buy the shares, telling the press after the sale, “I just feel like a friend has them.” Yoko Ono and her son Sean were friends with Jackson at this point in time, and Sean was very into Jackson’s music and style. At one point he even sported the “one glove” fashion at school, and he participated in Jackson’s 1988 movie Moonwalker. One Lennon-McCartney composition, “Come Together” was also performed by Jackson in the movie and on the soundtrack album.

In 1995, Jackson merged his catalogue with Sony Music’s publishing for a reported £59,052,000, establishing Sony/ATV Music Publishing, in which he retained half-ownership. Northern Songs was dissolved in 1995 after the merger, and is now a part of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. McCartney’s MPL Communications later succeeded in acquiring the publishing rights to “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”, from EMI, which had been published by Ardmore and Beechwood, prior to the formation of Northern Songs.

In April 2006 a package was proposed whereby Jackson would borrow £186,480,000, and reduce the interest rate payable on a loan he had, while giving Sony the future option to buy half of Jackson’s stake in their jointly-owned publishing company, leaving Jackson with a 25% stake. Jackson agreed to a Sony-backed refinancing deal, although the finalised details were not made public. Following Jackson’s death in June 2009, there were reports that Jackson had left the Beatles catalog to McCartney in his will, having added it just five months before. However, it was later revealed that Sony/ATV Music Publishing would keep control of the Beatles’ songs. On March 14, 2016, Sony announced that it had reached a deal to acquire the Jackson estate’s stake in the company.

George Harrison’s compositions

The Northern Songs catalogue also held the publishing rights to most of George Harrison’s Beatles compositions. The compositions of George originally handled by Northern Songs, now Sony/ATV are:

  • Blue Jay Way
  • I Need You
  • I Want to Tell You
  • If I Needed Someone
  • It’s All Too Much
  • Love You To
  • Only a Northern Song
  • Taxman
  • Think for Yourself
  • Within You Without You
  • You Like Me Too Much

as well as the songs Harrison composed for the “Wonderwall” movie, released on his “Wonderwall Music” solo soundtrack album.

5 Responses

  1. Nicki says:

    I recall reading an interview with Paul a while back where he talked about 'rights revert to us' – this must have been what he meant.

    But what of the other Beatles songs he has yet to file for? Are his lawyers just getting round to it?

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  3. Anonymous says:

    The role Yoko decided to play in this situation is exactly what I can't stand about her. Do you really feel that strongly about separating The Beatles and solo era's of John's life that you would rather the rights to his and McCartney's Beatles compositions be in the hands of Michael Jackson than in McCartney and your own hands? It's mind boggling. It's almost like she did it and then made that snarky statement ("I feel better knowing they're in the hands of a friend") just to spite McCartney.

    So does this mean Paul hold the rights to John and Georges songs in addition to his own?

  4. Popper says:

    This telling of events differs from everything else I've read in that the situation between McCartney and Michael Jackson sounds very cordial and reasonable. Maybe it was – how would I know? – but my understanding from other sources is that Macca wanted the catalogue and Jackson outbid him – frustrating him and leading to a permanent fall-out between the two.

  5. wogew says:

    McCartney was not outbid, since he never did bid. He wanted to deliver a joint bid from himself and Ono, but Ono didn't want to do that.

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