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Paul McCartney sues Sony to take back Beatles catalog

The former Beatle is due to reclaim ownership of the songs next year under US copyright law, although he has said he is yet to receive confirmation from Sony. UK group Duran Duran lost a similar case to Sony last year.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney took Sony Corp's music publishing arm to court Wednesday, as he seeks to reclaim the copyrights to 267 Beatles songs.

McCartney's lawsuit, which attorneys presented before a New York federal court, claims he notified the Sony-based music label, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, back in October 2008 that he wished to terminate his publishing contract in 2018 and reclaim the rights to the songs he co-wrote with fellow Beatle John Lennon.

However, according to the suit, Sony/ATV has so far failed to acknowledge McCartney's right as composer to terminate copyright transfers under the US Copyright Act, prompting concerns the publisher could instead declare the former Beatle to be in breach of his contract.

The suit claims that "because the earliest of Paul McCartney's terminations will take effect in 2018, a judicial declaration is necessary and appropriate at this time so that Paul McCartney can rely on quiet, unclouded title to his rights."

In a statement, Sony/ATV Music Publishing said it regretted the lawsuit, calling it "unnecessary and premature."

"Sony/ATV has the highest respect for Sir Paul McCartney, with whom we have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship with respect to the treasured Lennon & McCartney song catalog," the publisher said.

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Late pop star Michael Jackson acquired the Beatles song catalog in 1985 for $47.5 million, famously outbidding McCartney after the former Beatle told him of the importance of music publishing. Jackson obtained the Beatles songs as part of a larger trove of some 4,000 pop tunes from Australian businessman Robert Holmes.

The songs were then rolled into a joint venture between Jackson and his record label, forming Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which went on to become the world's largest music publisher.

In 2016, seven years after Jackson's death, the late pop star's estate sold its 50-percent stake in Sony/ATV to Sony Corp for around $750 million.

"You never give me your money"

McCartney's lawsuit could have major ramifications for the music industry and the law's interpretation of the US Copyright Act of 1976.

Under the Act, artists can reclaim the rights to their songs 35 years after they are given away, or 56 years for songs after 1978. Next year will mark 56 years since the Beatles released their first single, "Love Me Do," in 1962.

However, in a crucial legal victory for publishers, a British court in December last year refused to grant UK group Duran Duran the US rights to its songs from Sony/ATV on the grounds that the group members' agreements were governed by English law.

"Rather than provide clear assurances to Paul McCartney that Defendants will not challenge his exercise of his termination rights, Defendants are clearly reserving their rights pending the final outcome of the Duran Duran litigation in the UK," the McCartney lawsuit read. McCartney said he has made clear he intends to terminate his publishing contract under the US law. 

dm/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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