Paul McCartney’s battle for the Beatles’ songs
Many people are wondering “Who owns the Beatles Music”, “Who owns the rights to the Beatles Songs?” or “Who owns the Beatles catalog now?”
Music rights to the Beatles’ songs are currently owned by Paul McCartney and Sony/ATV. According to the US Copyright law of 1967, Paul McCartney regained some rights to The Beatles’ music from Sony/ATV in 2017, 56 years after it was originally granted.
McCartney won back ownership rights to Beatles songs written up to 1962. He will continue to reclaim more rights until 2026 when he will be able to reclaim all Beatles songs. As this battle has been raging since the 1980s, this is a major victory for the former Beatle.
Ownership History of The Beatles’ Music (Who owns the Beatles music catalog)
It has been a long and complicated story of The Beatles’ music ownership over the last 50 years. One of music’s most valuable catalogs has changed hands several times.
Northern Songs published The Beatles’ debut album, which was owned by Brian Epstein, The Beatles (John Lennon and Paul McCartney), and Dick James, their publisher.
Northern Songs was owned by Dick James, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, as well as John Lennon and Paul McCartney when the Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me, was released in 1963.
All four Beatles owned shares in Northern Songs when it became public in 1965, with McCartney and Lennon holding the majority.
Following Epstein’s death in 1969, James sold his stake in Northern Songs to ATV Music, giving the label control of the catalog. In the same year, Lennon and McCartney also sold their shares to ATV, leaving them without any stake in their songs’ publishing.
ATV Music – Sony/ATV
After Paul McCartney advised Michael Jackson about the value of owning a publishing company, he purchased ATV in 1985 for $47.5 million, outbidding McCartney himself for his own songs, which led him to buy the Beatles’ song collection as well.
Michael Jackson began to have financial difficulties in the mid-1990s, and at that point, he sold half of ATV to Sony, and the two companies merged to become Sony/ATV.
After Michael Jackson passed away in 2009, his 50% share of the company was transferred to his estate until Sony agreed to buy the remaining half of the company in 2016, bringing all of Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles music under one roof once again.
The majority of Beatles songs were regained by McCartney in 2017
The story took a twist when Paul McCartney filed lawsuit against Sony in an attempt to recover the rights to his songs. In a private settlement, McCartney won back 32 of the Beatles’ earlier songs, with later songs potentially becoming available by 2026, according to Live for Live Music.
Songs exclusively by John Lennon, however, will remain under Sony’s ownership. This is because the company reached an agreement with Yoko Ono in which the company will retain the rights until 70 years after Lennon’s death in 2050.
McCartney filed a lawsuit in 2018 challenging the US Copyright Act of 1976, which allowed songwriters to keep the publishers’ share of their copyrighted works released before 1978 for a 56-year period (comprised of two 28-year terms); the term will end for the earliest Beatles songs in 2018, with later songs eligible in 2026.
Duran Duran was in the same situation but they lost a similar suit against Sony earlier. However, McCartney won and got back his ownership rights and he will be able to reclaim even more until 2026.
A note about Lennon’s side of the issue: According to that law, if a songwriter died within the first 28 years, his or her heirs could recapture that publishing share at the end of the first 28 years, which would be 1990 in the Beatles’ case. After Lennon died in 1980, sources told Billboard in 2009 that Sony had struck a deal with his wife Yoko Ono before the expiration of that period to retain control of Lennon’s share for 70 years following his death; in this case, 2050.
Music ownership for the Beatles has been a long and complicated process, with ownership changing hands over sixty years.
A private settlement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2017 allowed Paul McCartney to regain the rights to some of The Beatles’ music. All of McCartney’s songs that he wrote for The Beatles will be returned to him by the year 2026.