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McCartney sues Sony unit over rights to Beatles hits

Sir Paul McCartney has sued Sony’s publishing arm as he looks to reclaim US rights to songs he co-wrote with John Lennon in the 1960s and 70s.

Sony owns the publishing rights, last year buying out the Michael Jackson estate’s 50 per cent stake in Sony/ATV, the music publishing group, for $750m. The Lennon-McCartney catalogue represents one of Sony/ATV’s crown jewels, spanning the bulk of Beatles’ songs written from 1962 to 1971, including hits such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Love Me Do”.

Under US copyright law, songwriters can lay claim to the publishing ownership of their work after 56 years; Mr McCartney’s catalogue will be eligible starting in 2018. 

In a filing in the Southern District of New York, Mr McCartney said he had sent dozens of notices with the US copyright office but alleged that Sony/ATV representatives had not “provided clear assurances” that the company would not challenge the ownership transfer. He is seeking a “declaratory judgment” that Sony/ATV will confirm his rights to the songs. 

Sony/ATV called the lawsuit “unnecessary and premature”. 

“Sony/ATV has the highest respect for Sir Paul McCartney . . . 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,” the company said in a statement. 

The rights apply only in the US, leaving the catalogue in the hands of Sony/ATV for the rest of the world. Publishing ownership gives control and royalties for song use in films, television shows and video games. 

The decades-long battle over this catalogue picked up in 1985 when Michael Jackson bought ATV Music Publishing, the publisher of the Lennon-McCartney songs, for $47.5m. In 1995, ATV Music, which the pop star controlled, merged with Sony’s publishing arm.

Sony/ATV is the world’s biggest music publisher, representing 3m songs ranging from hits by The Beatles to Taylor Swift. 

A Sony-led consortium acquired EMI Music Publishing four years ago for $2.2bn; Sony/ATV manages EMI on an arms-length basis, a regulatory condition of the Sony group’s purchase.

Via FT