To a music lover and intellectual property attorney, this story is a wonderful collision of law and musical lore. Paul McCartney’s efforts to regain ownership of the Lennon/McCartney (or is it now “McCartney/Lennon?”) music catalog from Sony combines two interesting tales–the story of how Sony came to own the catalog to begin with and the existence and story behind a seemingly odd copyright reclamation provision of the Copyright Act of 1976.
Let’s start with Sir Paul and The King of Pop. As the story goes, at some point during the 1980s, when Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were friends and making songs together, McCartney pointed out to Jackson the value of music rights. Michael must have been listening and undoubtedly said something to himself along the lines of, “Say, Say, Say, that sounds like something I could make some money off of.” In 1985, Jackson bought ATV in a deal worth $47.5 million. ATV owned Northern Songs, the publishing company set up by Dick James and Brian Epstein in 1963 and which owned the rights to the majority of The Beatles’ songs. For those who might be curious, further interesting elements of that transaction are described in more detail here.