“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.”
— McCartney v. Sony/ATV complaint
“We have collaborated closely with both Sir Paul and the late John Lennon’s Estate for decades to protect, preserve and promote the catalogue’s long-term value.”
— Sony/ATV statement
Paul McCartney just can’t ‘Let It Be.’ Decades after Michael Jackson outbid him for the rights to the Beatles ‘Rock and Roll Music’, Sir Paul is asking an American court for ‘Help’ and telling the current rights owner, Sony/ATV ‘I’ll Get You.’
Now, you may be saying, ‘Slow Down’, ‘Tell Me Why’! The answer is that American copyright law is very different from British copyright law. ‘Why’? Because American copyright law adopted Something New in 1976 and that new Act provided that works produced before 1971 could be eligible for a form of copyright termination after 56 years.
That means the earliest of the Beatles songs could revert to McCartney and his band mates (or their estates) as early as next year, though Yoko Ono sold any residual rights from John Lennon’s estate to Sony back in 2009.
Sony/ATV, on the other hand, is saying, ‘You Can’t Do That.’ Although they purchased the rights from Jackson’s estate in the United States last year, they believe that British agreements should prevail. British copyright law would be a ‘Hard Day’s Night’ for the Beatles, as it provides that the copyright does not revert to the creator’s estate until 70 years after the artist’s death.
McCartney and his legal representatives have told Sony ‘We Can Work It Out.’ They claim they weren’t able to ‘Come Together’, have gotten ‘No Reply’ and ‘Yesterday’ (OK, actually last week), they filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal district court asking the court to ‘Please, Please Me’ by ruling in their favor.
The case is still in the very early stages, and no matter ‘What Goes On’, it will likely take months, if not years, to reach a final conclusion, even if the lawyers work ‘Eight Days a Week.’
Given the status of American law, you may be thinking that McCartney has a pretty clear ‘Ticket to Ride’ and that all his friends will soon be telling him ‘Baby, You’re A Rich Man.’ But it’s not that simple. Just last month, Duran Duran lost a similar suit in court based on a U.S. copyright law claim. I’m sure you’re telling yourself, ‘I Should Have Known Better.’
McCartney’s case could be a ‘Revolution’ in the music industry, though. That’s because the Duran Duran case was filed in the U.K. and so the court ruled that British law trumped American law. With McCartney’s case filed in the U.S., American law is likely to take top priority.
Even if McCartney prevails and he’s able to tell his music that he’s ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’, his music won’t ‘Come Together’ all at once. Rather, the songs will become ‘Free As A Bird’ one at a time, ‘Helter Skelter’, as they pass the 56 year barrier. If the court fails to heed his request— ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ — and rules against him, then the rights will remain with Sony and Sir Paul will be in ‘Misery.’
David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.