Even though the Beatles once put out an album called "Beatles For Sale," everything has its limits.
Saying that they do not want their music used as an advertising vehicle, the three living former Beatles yesterday sued sneaker-maker Nike Inc. for basing a much-ballyhooed television commercial on the original recording of the Fab Four song, "Revolution."
"The Beatles don't sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose or any other commercial product," said Leonard Marks, an attorney for Apple Corps. Ltd. and Apple Records Inc., companies that represent the interests of the three ex-Beatles and John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. "The Beatles want to stop advertisers from jumping on the bandwagon by trying to sell their products by associating with the Beatles and their music."
The Nike ad, which began airing in March, marked the first ever use of original Beatle recordings as commercial themes. "The use of their names, their recording and their goodwill in connection with the Nike commercial and the surrounding ad campaign was completely unauthorized by them," Marks said.
Nike -- which had no comment on the suit -- bought the rights to "Revolution" from pop star Michael Jackson, who owns the Beatles song catalog. Marks said Nike paid EMI-Capitol Records, which distributes the Beatles' records, $250,000 for the rights to the original version of the song, which was released in 1968. "The Beatles never got a cent of this money, and they never authorized it," Marks said.
EMI-Capitol also was named in the suit, as was an Oregon advertising firm that handles the Nike account. The suit, filed in New York state court, asks that the commercial be taken off the air.
The suit is the latest action in an ongoing war between the Beatles and EMI-Capitol. The group has filed two suits against the company claiming that the band has been shortchanged on royalties, including one last week that alleged that EMI-Capitol had gypped the Beatles out of some of the proceeds from the highly successful recent release of several of the group's albums on compact discs.
The suit filed yesterday asks that EMI-Capitol be ordered never to allow the group's records to be used for commercials. The group also wants its master recordings back because of Capitol's alleged repeated breaches of contract, according to Marks.
A spokeswoman for EMI-Capitol in Los Angeles said the company had not yet seen the latest suit and thus could not comment.
Marks said he hoped the suit would serve as a warning to several other companies rumored to be considering commercials based on Beatles songs.
"We'd been advised that there are a number of other potential advertisers thinking of using Beatles recordings to promote their products, and we want to put them on notice that we won't permit this," Marks said. "By filing this suit, it's a warning to advertisers that if you use the Beatles records to endorse and promote your products, we will sue you."