March 19, 2016

McCartney trying to get back Beatle song copyrights to reclaim his 'babies'

Now that Sony has taken over the half of Sony/ATV that Michael Jackson owned, can the Beatles get any of their copyrights back? The answer to that question is a qualified yes. It was reported Friday night that Paul McCartney has been working since last December to regain at least some of the music copyrights of Beatles songs that were purchased by Michael Jackson, according to a story from Billboard. “Paul calls the songs 'his babies,'” Beatles researcher Peter Hodgson, who is credited by author Mark Lewisohn in “Tune In: All These Years, Volume 1,” and helped Philip Norman with his Lennon and upcoming McCartney biographies, told Beatles Examiner.

You'll recall that back in the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson did an end run around Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, who had discussed buying the songs, and bought them himself. “He should have just gone ahead and purchased them for £20 million in the early 80's when he was offered them by Sir Lew Grade,” who phoned him personally, Hodgson said.

The U.S. Copyright Act allows songwriters to apply to get their song copyrights back. In the case of songs written before 1978, it's after 56 years. In this case, the first Lennon-McCartney songs hit that mark in 2018, a scant two years away. But any actions taken by McCartney and Yoko Ono will only apply in America as Sony/ATV will still hold them in the rest of the world.

But none of this might not have been necessary if it hadn't been for a critical conversation Yoko Ono reportedly had with Jackson's lawyer, John Branca, who phoned her to ask if she would be purchasing the Beatles songs which were up for sale at the time. According to an excerpt of the book “Michael Jackson Inc.: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Billion Dollar Empire” that is on the Forbes magazine website, Ono, a friend of Jackson's as was McCartney, told Branca they weren't bidding on it.

“No?,” the book quotes Branca. “No, no, if we had bought it, then we’d have to deal with Paul,” Ono reportedly said, and then asked why he wanted to know. “Because Michael’s interested,” Branca said. “Oh, that would be wonderful in the hands of Michael rather than some big corporation,” she reportedly told him. The author said he asked Ono about the conversation some 30 years later and she said she didn't have a “complex dialogue” with Jackson's people.

But even if McCartney gets some of the copyrights back, Hodgson says his efforts will only be partly successful. “Paul will only own half of any songs in the U.S., as Yoko cut a deal for Sony to keep John's half.“