Paul McCartney has filed a federal lawsuit against music publisher Sony/ATV, claiming ownership to songs he wrote with the Beatles. The singer-songwriter hopes to regain his copyrights to songs such as “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude” and “The Long and Winding Road” in October 2018. A rep for McCartney said that the paperwork, filed in a U.S. District Court in New York, is meant “to confirm his ownership” of the songs “which are granted to him by US copyright law.” The lawsuit claims McCartney has been making several such legal filings since 2008.
The former Beatle is seeking a “declaratory judgment,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, to ensure the transfer will not be prolonged. He’s also seeking a ruling that the publishing agreements are unlawful and unenforceable against McCartney, attorneys’ fees and any other fees the court feels is just.
McCartney’s legal team is citing the 1976 Copyright Act that says that the rights to works made before 1978 must be returned to their creators 56 years after the date of the original copyright; 2018 will be 56 years since Lennon and McCartney first starting writing songs together in 1962.
“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 and McCartney song catalog,” a rep for the publishing company tells Rolling Stone. “We have collaborated closely with both Sir Paul and the late John Lennon’s Estate for decades to protect, preserve and promote the catalog’s long-term value. We are disappointed that they have filed this lawsuit which we believe is both unnecessary and premature.”
McCartney is hoping that a U.S. court will rule in his favor ahead of a U.K. court; Duran Duran had filed a similar suit last year with a Sony/ATV subsidiary and an English court ruled that American law came second to those of Great Britain. By filing the suit in the U.S., McCartney’s legal team hopes that U.S. Copyright law and its statutory termination rules – the point at which the copyright reverts back to the writer – would take precedence over any contracts in the U.K.
McCartney and John Lennon had assigned the rights to some of the songs, written between 1962 and 1971, to various publishers; by the Eighties, a number of the songs belonged to ATV. In late 1984, Australian billionaire Robert Holmes à Court put the songs up for sale. McCartney had spoken to his then-friend, Michael Jackson, about the lucrative business of owning songs and Jackson subsequently outbid his friend, taking ownership of the Beatles’ catalogue for the price of $47.5 million.
Jackson later worked with Sony to form Sony/ATV. The book Michael Jackson, Inc. reports that as of 2014, Sony/ATV was worth $2 billion. Jackson’s heirs owned half of the business until the estate sold its share to Sony last year.
“Some time ago, the media came up with the idea that Michael Jackson was going to leave his share in the Beatles songs to me in his will, which was completely made up and something I didn’t believe for a second,” McCartney said in 2009, upon news of Jackson’s death and the revelation that Jackson had not given him his songs back. “Now the report is that I am devastated to find that he didn’t leave the songs to me. This is completely untrue. I had not thought for one minute that the original report was true and therefore, the report that I’m devastated is also totally false, so don’t believe everything you read folks.”