While Paul McCartney has been very busy recently appearing on James Corden’s Karpool Karoke, Jimmy Fallon, performing a surprise concert in the middle of Grand Central Station all in an effort to promote his latest album, Egypt Station, which has risen to the top of the charts, not long ago he was engaged in big-time litigation with Sony/ATV Music Publishing over the copyrights to his music. Michael Jackson famously outbid McCartney in the 1980s for the treasured Beatles catalogue. In the 1990s, Jackson sold half of his share to Sony and in 2016 Sony bought out Jackson’s estate for their half, giving them all of the 4,000 song catalogue of ATV Music, which included 250 of Lennon/McCartney songs.
In 2017, Paul McCartney filed a federal lawsuit in New York seeking a declaratory judgment to begin reclaiming his copyright interests in his Beatles’ songs, which stem from Love Me Do (1962) to The Long and Winding Road (1970). It is a clever move by McCartney and his legal team to use an obscure part of the Federal Copyright Act of 1976 to get back the rights to the music.
Section 304(c) of the Act creates a non-waiveable claw-back right for authors to reclaim their ownership interests in any works assigned by them prior to January 1, 1978. An author may reclaim their copyright ownership interest by serving a termination notice on the rights-holder between 56 and 61 years after the copyright registered. That means for the songs that McCartney wrote with the Beatles in 1962, and which Sony currently owns, 2018 is the first year he can begin clawing-back his ownership interests. So he can do that each year now until 2026 when he can regain the copyrights to all of his Beatles’ songs.
Shortly thereafter McCartney filed his claim in the Southern District of New York, Sony/ATV quickly decided to settle in June 2017. It did not seem like they wanted to have a nasty legal battle go on for years. “The parties have resolved this matter by entering into a confidential settlement agreement and jointly request that the Court enter the enclosed proposed order dismissing the above-referenced action without prejudice,” said a letter from McCartney’s attorney.