Paul McCartney vs. Sony: Reclaiming Song Copyrights

By: Scarinci Hollenbeck

We’re seeing a lot of copyright issues come up in blogs and IP news lately, regarding rights surrounding classic rock music. From the Turtles’ lawsuit against SiriusXM radio to the new RMC controversy, the landscape is awash with questions about music rights and control for classic music. Now, a former Beatle, Paul McCartney, has come onto the stage, filing suit to reclaim copyrights for over 265 songs written in the 1960s.

Paul McCartney Files Suit Against Sony For Copyrights to Songs

Paul McCartney Sony Suit

Sir Paul McCartney has recently filed a lawsuit in New York federal court against media giant Sony/ATV. The lawsuit aims to reclaim copyrights on 267 songs that McCartney and fellow Beatle John Lennon wrote in the 1960s. The songs include well-known hits like “All You Need is Love” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

McCartney first began this process almost a decade ago, when he filed for the rights to “Love Me Do” in 2008. In 2010, he added 40 more songs in a claim, and today he sits at 267 songs. The suit is related to the termination provision contained in Section 304(c) of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, which allows songwriters to reclaim rights that were granted, licensed or transferred prior to 1978 after 56 years have passed. McCartney is now seeking a declaratory judgment to confirm the termination and reclamation of his rights, as well as a ruling that the underlying publishing agreements are unenforceable.

Bumps in the Road

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as the artist simply taking back the copyrights. In order to effectuate the termination, notice must be provided to the current holder within a five year period, which begins in the 56th year after the initial transfer. This has not yet been done, according to McCartney’s spokesperson, and that is the cause for the lawsuit. Sony, not surprisingly, has been silent on the issue.

This is not the first time McCartney has made an effort to get his music back. Back in 1985, when the copyrights came up for sale, Sir Paul’s one-time friend and collaborator Michael Jackson outbid him for publishing rights to 4,000 Beatles tunes at the cost of $47.5 million, after McCartney allegedly had spoken to Jackson about the lucrativeness of owning such rights.

Past Reclaiming Cases

Sir Paul also isn’t the first one to attempt this kind of reversion. Duran Duran moved to get the rights back to their first three albums in December; however, their claim was brought in British courts as that nation is where their contract was written. In that case, the courts found that U.S. laws didn’t apply to the British contract. McCartney filed this case in New York in hopes that the US-based court will apply US copyright laws.

Are you a songwriter or performer who wants more information on how to protect or regain your copyrights? The copyright lawyers at Scarinci Hollenbeck have decades of combined experience in these kinds of cases and we are happy to help out. Just give us a call today at 201-806-3364, and let’s talk about your copyright, trademark or intellectual property case.

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