The big legal story of the last ten days or so is Paul McCartney’s announcement of his intentions to sue Sony/ATV (the music publishing division of Sony) in order to reacquire the rights to the songs he wrote and co-wrote during the first half of the Beatles’ career.
Unless you’re a hardcore Beatles fan, you might not have known that Paul doesn’t receive any publishing royalties from songs like “Yesterday.” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “She Loves You.” Those were all part of the Northern Songs catalogue that slipped away from the Beatles in 1969 as a result of the debacle known as Apple Corps.
The Telegraph does an excellent job of explaining how things went so pear-shaped for Macca–and how Michael Jackson came to be his biggest enemy is getting his songs back.
If a court finds in his favour, the rights will begin defaulting back to McCartney from October 2018, in accordance with US copyright law. But for many years, the songs belonged to another musical legend – Michael Jackson. How on earth did this happen?
The story of how the King of Pop came to own most of The Beatles’ back catalogue involves Australian folk music, a bowl of Smarties and one of the thorniest negotiations in pop music history. But it began one evening in 1981 when McCartney invited Jackson to his London home.
The pair knew each other quite well at the time – in that same year they also recorded hit single Say Say Say together – and Jackson asked McCartney for advice on how best to invest his money. The Beatle proudly showed Jackson a folder of papers listing all the songs he owned.
After signing away the rights to several of his own songs early in his career, McCartney had started acquiring songs by other people. “This is what I do,” he told Jackson. “I bought the Buddy Holly catalogue, a Broadway catalogue… Here’s the computer printout of all the songs I own.”
Inspired, Jackson began buying the rights to songs by soft rockers like Len Barry and soul group The Intruders. It was only the start. “He wanted to be the number one publisher in the world,” his business associate Karen Langford has said. He tried, unsuccessfully, to buy the Motown catalogue. But a few years later, a better opportunity would arise.
Keep reading. It gets messy.