Can Paul McCartney Get His Music Back?

One of the saddest chapters in Beatles history was when they lost control over the publishing rights to the songs from the first half of their career due to some serious fiscal mismanagement. When those songs came up for sale in the 80s, they were snapped up by Michael Jackson who outbid Macca for the catalogue. He’s been bitter about that ever since. But now that the Jackson estate is unloading those assets, McCartney wants back in the game. He wants 178 songs back.

It is, as you might guess, immensely complicated. From Billboard.

When news broke that the Michael Jackson estate would sell its 50 percent share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing to Sony in a $750 million deal, many wondered whether Paul McCartney would finally be able to acquire the rights to his share of the company’s crown jewel — the Lennon-McCartney catalog — since it begins coming up for reversion in 2018.

Billboard can confirm that as of Dec. 15, 2015, he has already begun the process.

To recap, at some point during the early ‘80s heyday of McCartney’s friendship with Jackson, he pointed out the value of music publishing. Jackson soon received a tip that ATV Music — publisher of the Beatles’ Lennon-McCartney songs, among many others — was available, and purchased it for $47.5 million in 1985. McCartney had long coveted his Beatles catalog — he and Lennon lost out to ATV in a 1969 attempt to purchase Northern Songs, their original publisher — and he never forgave Jackson for what he considered a betrayal of their friendship.

It’s an opportunity McCartney is not going to let slip past him again. The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 gave songwriters the ability to recapture the publishers’ share of their songs, and in the case of titles written before 1978, writers can recapture songs after two consecutive 28-year terms, or 56 years. (That legislation allows for writers of songs issued in or after 1978 to recapture their publishing after 35 years.)

The Lennon-McCartney catalog begins hitting the 56-year mark in 2018.

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.)

Billboard has confirmed that on Dec. 15, 2015, McCartney filed a termination notice of 32 songs with the U.S. Copyright Office. Additionally, another source confirmed that he has filed termination notices for his songs that were issued on Beatles records from 1962-1964, although many of the titles he has moved to terminate were issued much later, including the 1969 and 1970 songs “Come Together,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” and seven other songs on the Abbey Road album, as well as the single tracks Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John & Yoko.” Most of the songs carry a termination date in October 2025, while “Get Back,” carries a termination date of April 18, 2025; and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” on June 17, 2025.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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