Does Michael Jackson control the Beatles music library? October 27, 1995


Dear Cecil:

My understanding is that Michael Jackson slyly acquired the copyrights to the entire Beatles library, much to the dismay of his ex-friend Paul McCartney. I also hear that despite much pleading, he refuses to sell any of them back. Does this mean that he can overdub the masters with his own voice? Are we liable to see copies of "Abbey Road" with five people crossing the street and mysterious falsettoes throughout?

— Saddened fan from Oregon

Cecil replies:

Come on. Think of the Sgt. Pepper cover, with all the boys in uniform. Michael Jackson would fit right in. (Although you'd want the guy missing the glove to be Paul.) Don't worry, no musical travesties are going to happen, or at least they're not going to happen as a result of Jackson owning the Beatles library.

What Michael Jackson bought for $47.5 million in 1985 was the publishing rights to 159 or 251 Beatles songs, depending on who's counting. To maybe oversimplify a complicated business, publishing rights are basically the sheet music rights. When Paul McCartney wanted to print the lyrics to "Eleanor Rigby" and other Beatles classics in the program for his 1989 world tour, he discovered he'd have to pay a fee to Michael Jackson. The owner of the publishing rights (hereinafter the publisher) also gets a royalty when someone plays a Beatles song on a jukebox or the radio or does a cover version of a Fab Four tune. Particularly in the case of elevator music, to which, let's be frank, a lot of Beatles tunes are well suited, this can earn the publisher some serious cash.

But there are a couple things the publisher can't do. The first is to mess with, or license the use of, Beatles recordings. Michael Jackson agreed to license the words and music of "Revolution" to Nike for a 1987 shoe commercial, but he had to persuade Capitol Records, owner of the tune's North American recording rights, to allow use of the actual record. Most likely he'd have to do the same to overdub said record with his own voice, although he might get away with including a snippet in a musical collage, something even John Lennon did that has now become impossible to control.

Another thing the publisher can't do (in the U.S. at least) is prevent somebody from recording a cover version of a song the publisher owns. Usually the would-be cover artist and the publisher work out a deal on royalties. However, if negotiations fail, U.S. law allows the cover artist to make and market the recording anyway provided he pays a stipulated (and fairly stiff) royalty to the publisher.

The point is, being a publisher doesn't give you all that much control over the songs you own; mainly it gives you the right to the profits they earn. You don't even get to keep all of that; typically you have to give 50% to each song's composer(s), one reason not to feel too sorry for Paul McCartney and the estate of John Lennon. Another reason is that McCartney, despite having

gotten skunked out of his own songs, contrived to buy the rights to 3,000 others, including the Buddy Holly catalog, and reportedly is worth $600 million. Not that he's happy, of course. Paul's mad at Michael Jackson not merely because he lost control of the Beatles library but also because Jackson won't discuss giving McCartney a higher composer's royalty for the old tunes.

The last reason not to feel sorry for Paul is that if he got skunked it's his own fault. In the 60s, to avoid confiscatory British taxes, he and Lennon turned their publishing rights over to newly-organized Northern Songs, a publicly-held company in which they owned sizable but apparently not controlling blocks of stock. In 1969 music mogul Lew Grade launched a takeover bid for Northern Songs in which he offered seven times the stock's original offering price. Lennon and McCartney, feuding as usual, were unable to organize an effective defense and the company was sold out from under them. This made them even more fabulously wealthy than they already were, since their stock was now worth seven times as much. However, they were still pissed on account of, you know, the principle of the thing. The Teeming Millions can surely sympathize.

— Cecil Adams



Michael Jackson Buys a Portion of Eminem’s Catalog
2007 Thursday May 31 3:18 PM CDT posted by xxl staff

Pop superstar Michael Jackson now owns the rights to portions of Eminem’s catalog as a result of his Sony/ATV Music Publishing company’s recent purchase of Famous Music LLC from Viacom. Through the deal, Jackson now controls the publishing rights to songs such as “Without Me” and “The Real Slim Shady” according to Reuters. Viacom announced the deal, which is estimated to be worth some $370 million, on Wednesday (May 30). Jackson and Sony/ATV now also own the rights to scores of hit songs from a number of artists including Shakira, and movie soundtracks such as The Godfather and Mission: Impossible. In 2004, Em famously enraged the pop legend when he parodied him in the video for his single “Just Lose It.”



Michael Jackson's company denies Beatles coming to iTunes
by Greg Sandoval
March 10, 2008 2:02 PM PDT

The company that owns the rights to a vast majority of The Beatles music catalog has questioned reports that the Fab Four have cut a deal with Steve Jobs.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the joint venture owned by Sony and singer Michael Jackson, has thrown cold water on newspaper stories out of London that The Beatles catalog would soon be available on iTunes. A spokeswoman for Sony/ATV Music Publishing told CNET News.com that the reports are "untrue."
Sony/ATV is a pretty good source. While EMI Group owns the recording rights to The Beatles catalog, Sony and Jackson own the rights to the vast majority of the catalog's publishing rights. Had a deal been cut, Sony/ATV would "absolutely be informed," the Sony/ATV spokeswoman said.

The Beatles' official Web site
(Credit: Apple Corps)
Stories about the Fab Four heading to iTunes crop up every few months, it seems, and rumors and unconfirmed reports have been circulating for years. This time, the story appeared to have legs as it was reported by three large British newspapers. They all cited unnamed sources.
Under media scrutiny, the stories began showing cracks on Sunday. One of the newspapers reported that Apple was willing to pay the Beatles about $600 million. The blog Silicon Alley Insider noted that Apple, which grosses about 33 cents for every song sale, would have to sell 1.8 billion Beatles songs to break even.
A high-level music industry source said an agreement between The Beatles and Apple could still get inked in 2008. They emphasized, however, that the British papers were wrong to say the deal was finalized.
Representatives for EMI and Apple declined to comment for the story.
Beatles-iTunes partnership would make sense
One has to wonder why these rumors and unconfirmed reports continue to crop up. Is it a case of wishful thinking on the part of Beatles fans or Apple?
The availability of The Beatles, the best-selling band of all time, on iTunes would send the most dramatic signal to date that digital downloads are an integral part of mainstream music, said Susan Kevorkian, a music analyst with research group IDC.
"It's important for iTunes and online music services in general because it legitimizes IP-based music services," Kevorkian said. "It also points to the fact that digital music services are maturing when important groups that have been high-profile holdouts come onboard."
In the last several years, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica--artists who once spurned Internet sales of their music--reversed themselves and embraced iTunes.
Earlier Monday, Chris Castle, a music lawyer and former record label executive predicted that a Web-based Beatlemania would be big for iTunes and Beatles fans alike.
He said The Beatles could release formerly unreleased music "that they might have lying around," and the offering could also include some kind of video element. Even though The Beatles broke up nearly 40 years ago, Castle said Apple Corps, the band's media company, would find a way to "dress up the offering" so that it would create excitement even among longtime Beatles fans.
Jeff Jones, the new head of Apple Corps, "is known as a catalog genius," Castle said. "If there is anybody that can figure out how to make this work it's him. I would expect to see some pleasant surprises from Jeff."
Castle said that what fans likely won't find with a Beatles offering on iTunes is a discount.
"This is a band that has sold music at premium prices for four decades," Castle said. "They've never been discounted. I would be shocked to see any competition on price. Think about it. The Beatles have kept (their brand) precious and popular for a long time. They've done this by knowing how to treat their fans and knowing what didn't work for them."
The Beatles were unlikely candidates to join iTunes. Apple Corps had a series of trademark disputes with Apple Inc. going back to 1976 when Beatle guitarist George Harrison saw an ad for the then Apple Computer. The band thought the new company had infringed on their trademark and sued. The case was settled out of court.
There were other legal skirmishes along the way but last year, Paul McCartney told reporters in Great Britain that he thought a deal with Apple CEO Steve Jobs was close to being finalized.
If and when The Beatles arrive at iTunes, there'll be plenty of people who will ask, "Why all the fuss?" The music has been available for free on peer-to-peer sites for years.
According to Castle, The Beatles were an unprecedented combination of talent and timing, and even after all this time, still possess an enormous following of people who will be willing to pay.
"You had the musical genius, business genius, and extraordinary popularity that crossed all genres and formats," Castle said. "You've never had that before or since."


http://www.macca-central.com/macca-news/morenews.php?id=3048Was Michael Jackson a Shrewd Businessman or Underhanded Friend?
Updated: Jun.30,2009 09:17

When they first met in the 1970s, they were two of the most famous entertainers on earth -- Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

They became good friends. Their partnership in the early 1980s produced hits like "Say Say Say" and "The Girl Is Mine."

"They're pure pop lovers with some of the greatest sense of melody," former editor in chief for Vibe and Spin magazines Alan Light told ABC News. "And students of old Hollywood films and early rock 'n' roll records, and lovers of cartoons. There was a lot of common ground between them."

But the relationship between Jackson and McCartney soured in 1985. That year, Jackson entered into a bidding war with McCartney for the rights to the Beatles song-copyright catalog. Jackson won, paying $47.5 million for more than 200 songs, including classics such as "Yesterday" and "Let It Be."

The details of the 10-month negotiations never became entirely clear.

"The story goes that one day at Paul McCartney's house they were having dinner and Paul casually mentioned that the way to make real money in the music business is through publishing," New York Times music reporter Ben Sisario told ABC News. "Michael took that to heart."

Alan Light said, "One thing that was speculated was that Michael kind of knew how much Paul was going to bid for this and knew what it was going to take to top that bid."

Although Jackson's financial affairs are now reportedly in disarray, Sisario said the acquisition of the songs was the move of a very smart businessman.

"Michael Jackson's investment in the Beatles' catalog was one of the most brilliant coups in all of music history," Sisario told ABC News. "He got his hands on the most valuable songs that there are for a pretty small amount of money. That has ballooned from about $50 million into more than a billion dollars."

But McCartney was furious, and the two reportedly didn't speak for years.

"You know what doesn't feel very good," McCartney said as recently as 2006, "is going on tour and paying to sing all my songs. Every time I sing 'Hey Jude,' I've got to pay someone."
"It's not just about the money," Sisario said. "It's about music. It's about what Paul McCartney created with John Lennon. I mean, this is his legacy to the world. And naturally he wants to own it, he wants to control it."

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney collaborated on early '80s hits "Say Say Say" and "The Girl Is Mine." But the relationship became strained in 1985 after Jackson paid $47.5 million for the rights to more than 200 Beatles songs.

Since Jackson's death Thursday, McCartney has taken a much softer line. In a statement posted to his Web site this weekend, McCartney said, "I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul."

Jackson's passing is raising new questions about what will happen to the Beatles catalog.

Earlier this year, some press reports suggested that Jackson, feeling badly about the rift with McCartney, had plans to leave Sir Paul the rights to the songs in his will.

Those reports are unconfirmed, and an army of lawyers is currently working to sort out Jackson's financial matters. At the time of his death, the pop icon was an estimated half-billion dollars in debt. Jackson's song collection was his largest asset.

There are conflicting reports about the executor of Jackson's will. One recent report says that Janet Jackson will be the executor of her brother's will; TMZ, the entertainment Web site, says Randy Jackson will take control of his brother's estate.

Alan Light too stressed that reports of Jackson leaving the Beatles' catalog to his old friend are, for now, just rumors.

But, he said, "If this is true, you wonder: OK, is this something that he still felt guilty about, that he had sort of out-maneuvered Paul to acquire this stuff? I mean, all of a sudden you have to start speculating on what that would mean."



Rumors about Jackson, Beatles catalog untrue, McCartney says
updated 12:21 p.m. EDT, Thu July 9, 2009

(CNN) -- First the rumor went around that Michael Jackson was leaving the Beatles catalog to Paul McCartney in his will. Then the rumor was that McCartney was upset that Jackson didn't leave the Beatles catalog to the Beatle in his will.

Michael Jackson didn't leave the Beatles catalog to Paul McCartney in his will, McCartney says.
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Neither is true, said McCartney in a posting on his Web site.

"Some time ago, the media came up with the idea that Michael Jackson was going to leave his share in the Beatles songs to me in his will which was completely made up and something I didn't believe for a second," McCartney said.

"Now the report is that I am devastated to find that he didn't leave the songs to me. This is completely untrue," he added.

The story of the Beatles song catalog is long and tangled. At the time McCartney and writing partner John Lennon wrote their songs, they retained only a portion of the rights in the publishing company created by the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, and London music publisher Dick James. (The company was called Northern Songs, a nod to the Beatles' Liverpudlian roots.) The company went public in 1965.

According to the myth-busting site Snopes.com, Lennon and McCartney each had 15 percent of the shares, Epstein (and his NEMS Enterprises) had 7.5 percent, James and partner Charles Silver had 37.5 percent and Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr had less than 2 percent. The rest was available for public investment.

Over the years (and partly due to the group's legal battles) the Beatles lost or sold their control, and the catalog of about 250 songs -- almost all of Lennon/McCartney's creations -- ended up in the hands of British media mogul Sir Lew Grade and his ATV Music Publishing. ATV added the Beatles' songs to its holdings, a cache that eventually grew to more than 4,000 songs. (Other songs in the catalog include those recorded by the Kinks, the Moody Blues and Elvis Presley.)

In 1984, the catalog was put up for sale again. McCartney wanted to buy his creations back, but for various reasons wasn't a front-runner. Jackson -- who had taken to investing in music publishing at, ironically, McCartney's recommendation -- came up with the winning bid of $47.5 million. The sale went through in 1985.

In 1995, Sony paid Jackson $95 million to merge the catalog with its Sony Music. Jackson maintained 50 percent control. In 2005, Sony/ATV Music had more than 200,000 songs in its catalog, a CNN.com article reported.

To finance his lifestyle, Jackson borrowed money, using the catalog as collateral. Nevertheless, he never lost the asset. The entire catalog was estimated to be worth between $600 million and $1 billion in 2005, according to a 2005 article in USA Today.

As a songwriter, McCartney has continued to receive some royalties from his work, as has Lennon's estate.

McCartney said in the posting that he and Jackson may have "drifted apart," but "we never really fell out."

"At times like this, the press do tend to make things up, so occasionally, I feel the need to put the record straight," he wrote.

McCartney and Jackson recorded a pair of duets in the early 1980s, "The Girl Is Mine" and "Say Say Say." The latter hit No. 1 in late 1983.

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