March 30, 2016
Paul McCartney would like his songs back now, please
by Taylor Sperry
Tracking down and clearing permission to reprint song lyrics is a tedious noble rite of passage among editorial assistants everywhere. And the most expensive lines tend to also be the most famous . . . like, for example, the lyrics to a Beatles song.
In 1985, Michael Jackson purchased the (presumably very lucrative) rights to the Beatles’ Lennon-McCartney songs by acquiring music publisher ATV Music for $47.5 million. According to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, rights become available to the songwriter again 56 years after they were first published, which in the case of many songs in the Lennon-McCartney catalog, means Paul McCartney can “recapture” rights in 2018.
Ed Christman reports for Billboard that McCartney has already filed a termination notice for 32 songs with the U. S. Copyright Office, though many of these songs were first issued on the Abbey Road record, which wasn’t released until 1969 (pushing the reversion date back to October 2025). Even then, McCartney can only claim his half of the share—apparently John Lennon’s share will remain with the publisher for term of copyright (that’s 70 years after death) due to a deal between Sony/ATV and Yoko Ono—and only in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Sun reports that McCartney will be waiting out at least part of this copyright term by joining Johnny Depp in the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel: “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
Taylor Sperry is an editor at Melville House.