McCartney files US lawsuit against Sony/ATV over reclaiming Beatles copyright.
Paul McCartney yesterday (18 January 2017) filed papers in Federal Court in New York seeking a declaration that he is entitled to reclaim the rights to a number of songs that he co-wrote with John Lennon from September 1962 to June 1971.
The US copyright Act 1976 provides that writers of pre-1978 songs can begin to reclaim their US publishing rights 56 years after singing them away. "Love Me Do" was created in 1962 which means that, according to the Act at least, the ownership in the songs will revert to McCartney from next year.
It has been reported that the Court papers filed yesterday suggest that despite McCartney having filed termination notices on Sony/ATV as long ago as 2008 to state his intention to reclaim copyright in the works the music publisher has yet to confirm that it will do so. McCartney's action will put the matter before a judge to determine and thus avoid further delay from Sony/ATV.
McCartney and his legal team will be readily aware of last month's Duran Duran judgment in English High Court. In that case Mr Justice Arnold decided that publishing agreements entered into by the band's members during the 1980s prevented them from benefiting from the reversion of the songs' copyright under the US Act. Despite the Judge considering the arguments to be "finely balanced" he "not without hesitation" found against Duran Duran.
Yesterday's lawsuit is said to suggest that McCartney is concerned that Sony/ATV delayed responding positively to his termination notices until the conclusion of the Duran Duran litigation.
The relevance, if any, of the Duran Duran judgment to McCartney is likely to depend upon the precise wording of any publishing agreements he entered into and whether, amongst other things, such agreements were subject to English law.
Sony/ATV have made a statement to describe McCartney's lawsuit as "unnecessary and premature" and should Sony/ATV seek to challenge his termination notices he will need to decide whether to fight on or Let It Be.
The Duran Duran judgment and now potentially the McCartney lawsuit in the US is a salutary reminder to both artists and music publishers that copyright transfers pursuant to the US law may not be as straightforward as previously thought and issues of English contract law may play a deciding role. Taking specialist advice at an early stage will allow an appropriate strategy to be agreed to maximise the party's prospect of success.