Music History

So Paul McCartney Is Suing Sony to Get his Songs Back. How Did He Ever Lose Them?

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.

Paul McCartney has filed a lawsuit to reclaim the rights to many of The Beatles‘ most famous hits from the world’s largest music publisher, Sony/ATV.

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.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 38536 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

5 thoughts on “So Paul McCartney Is Suing Sony to Get his Songs Back. How Did He Ever Lose Them?

  • He does not have the PUBLISHING rights. He still receives royalties from his music. He just doesn’t own the publishing rights. He has never owned those rights.

    Almost nothing you said in this article was true. Northern Songs was always a separate entity. When the Beatles started they needed a publisher. Northern Songs was the publisher. The rights of those songs were sold in the late 60s, then sold again the 80s. Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono tried to buy them, but Michael Jackson beat them to it.

  • Where is the rest?????

      • No I mean the story! Your last line is keep reading……there’s nothing more to read! Is it to come?

  • Where do I “keep reading”? If there’s a link, I missed it. There are so many ads on the page, it’s hard to tell. I’d really like to read the rest of the article.


Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.