Paul McCartney sues Sony over Beatles copyrights

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is seeking the copyrights to his former band's music, including hits such as I Want To Hold Your Hand, from Sony's music publishing arm.
Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is seeking the copyrights to his former band's music, including hits such as I Want To Hold Your Hand, from Sony's music publishing arm.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Former Beatle Paul McCartney sued Sony's music publishing arm on Wednesday in a federal court in New York, seeking to get back the copyrights to music of his former band, court records show.

Starting in October 2008, he sent notices to Sony/ATV Music Publishing, stating his desire to reclaim the copyrights to numerous songs, including Beatles hits Across The Universe, Love Me Do and I Want To Hold Your Hand, the suit said. Sony/ATV holds copyrights to the works, which were jointly composed by McCartney and John Lennon between September 1962 and June 1971.

The suit said the singer-songwriter would be able to begin reclaiming his rights to the music in October next year under the United States Copyright Act.

McCartney's lawyers have repeatedly asked Sony/ATV to acknowledge his rights to terminate copyright transfers of the music and the company has declined to do so, the suit said.

"Because the earliest of Paul McCartney's terminations will take effect in 2018, a judicial declaration is necessary and appropriate at this time so Paul McCartney can rely on the quiet, unclouded title to his rights," it said.

Sony/ATV called the lawsuit "unnecessary and premature" in an e-mail.

"Sony/ATV has the highest respect for Sir Paul McCartney, with whom we have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship with respect to the treasured Lennon & McCartney song catalogue," it said. "We are disappointed that they have filed this lawsuit, which we believe is both unnecessary and premature."

The suit said Sony/ATV attempted to stall talks with McCartney until the conclusion of a lawsuit involving similar claims by British pop band Duran Duran that was playing out in an English court. Duran Duran lost the legal battle to a Sony/ATV subsidiary last month.

"Rather than provide clear assurances to Paul McCartney that defendants will not challenge his exercise of his termination rights, defendants are clearly reserving their rights pending the final outcome of the Duran Duran litigation," McCartney's lawsuit said.

The suit is seeking a declaration from the court that the singer can reclaim his copyright interests in the songs, as well as attorneys' fees.

The late pop king Michael Jackson purchased the rights to the Beatles songs in 1985 and, 10 years later, formed Sony/ATV as a joint venture with Sony. Last year, Sony bought the share of Jackson's estate for US$750 million (S$1.1 billion).

REUTERS/NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2017, with the headline 'Paul McCartney sues Sony over Beatles copyrights'. Print Edition | Subscribe