Now, McCartney has fired another fusillade in his battle to reclaim his music. As Billboard first reported, records show McCartney, taking advantage of a law that allows singers to reclaim publishing rights after 56 years, filed a “notice of termination” with the U.S. Copyright Office. The songs on the table include many Beatles masterworks, including “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” — and, for the record, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” one of John Lennon’s least-favorite Beatles songs.
Publishing rights are, more or less, the right to “exploit” a song — to, for example, license it to a film, TV show or video game. The vast majority of McCartney’s work with the Beatles was credited to “Lennon-McCartney” — but, as the BBC noted, the singers lost their publishing rights in the 1960s when ATV, a publishing company they created with the other Beatles, their manager and outside investors, was sold without their knowledge.
Enter the King of Pop. McCartney and Jackson were collaborators, as anyone who has heard “The Girl is Mine” on “Thriller” or seen the “Say, Say, Say” video knows. And, one day, McCartney started talking to Jackson about music publishing. As J. Randy Taraborrelli recounted in “Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story,” Jackson proved an apt pupil.
When Michael told Paul, “Maybe someday I’ll buy your songs,” Paul laughed.“Great,” He said. “Good joke.”Michael wasn’t joking. Paul would one day regret their conversation.“I gave him a lot of free advice,” he would later say. “And you know what? A fish gets caught by opening his mouth.”
Indeed, after McCartney failed to buy ATV in a $20 million deal with Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, Jackson bought it in for $47.5 million in 1985. McCartney wasn’t happy.
“Someone rang me up one day and said, ‘Michael’s bought your songs,’” McCartney later said. “I said, ‘What??!!’ I think it’s dodgy to do things like that. … To be someone’s friend and then to buy the rug they’re standing on.”
McCartney’s notice of termination is an attempt to get the rug back. But what is a notice of termination?
As Billboard explained: “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.)”
The 56-year waiting period on many of the songs McCartney wants back doesn’t expire until 2025 — the year the man who wrote “When I’m 64” turns 83. It’s also worth noting that McCartney is only seeking his share of the publishing rights — not Lennon’s or anyone else’s — and only in the United States. Yoko Ono sold her rights to the catalogue to ATV, now known as Sony/ATV, in 2009.
“Only the McCartney half of the Lennon/McCartney songs are eligible for termination, and only for the U.S.,” an unnamed source told Billboard. “Sony/ATV still owns [those] Beatles songs in the rest of the world.”
Meanwhile it was just reported earlier this month that the Jackson estate sold its share of Sony/ATV to Sony for $750 million. The catalogue now includes works by Jackson, Bob Dylan, Eminem and Taylor Swift.
As the world found out in 2012 when “Mad Men” paid $250,000 to use “Tomorrow Never Knows” at the end of one episode, Beatles songs are not “exploited” cheaply.
“It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing,” Matthew Weiner, the creator of the show, said at the time. “Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.” He added: “Whatever people think, this is not about money. It never is. They are concerned about their legacy and their artistic impact.”
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