Well, Maybe He Left The Rights To Yoko

Paul McCartney, blogger:

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.

Now the report is that I am devastated to find that he didn’t leave the songs to me. This is completely untrue. I had not thought for one minute that the original report was true and therefore, the report that I’m devastated is also totally false, so don’t believe everything you read folks!

Brit Music Scene’s Dave Parrack:

I guess we have to take what McCartney says on face value, but I must admit to suspecting he feels differently than he is claiming to in public. McCartney really hasn’t got much to complain about in life, but seeing the publishing rights to songs he wrote, and which are revered and respected around the world, being bought by someone you trusted must rankle a little bit.

The problem is that now Michael Jackson has died, very few people are willing to say the things they were perfectly happy to say about him prior to his passing. In this sort of environment, where everyone is mourning Jackson far beyond what is normal and healthy, McCartney can hardly come out and say he’s disappointed at being cut out of the will.

The question remains though, who was left the publishing rights to The Beatles back catalog?

What about those Beatles songs? Some back story.


At some point, according to some accounts, McCartney reportedly told Jackson how he’d made a lot of money by owning the publishing rights to other people’s music. This inspired Jackson to start his own side business of buying, selling and distributing publishing rights to numerous artists. When the Beatles catalog, which was owned by ATV Music Publishing, came up for sale, McCartney initially said he wasn’t interested in buying it because it was too expensive. McCartney eventually changed his mind and attempted to persuade Yoko Ono to join him in a bid for the music, but she declined. In the end, Jackson purchased the catalog for $47.5 million dollars. McCartney, according to the Mirror, said ‘The annoying thing is I have to pay to play some of my own songs. Each time I want to sing ‘Hey Jude’ I have to pay.

It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in this 25 year-old story. But according to the Associated Press, McCartney issued a statement today saying “I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones.”

At IP Watchdog, Gene and Renee Quinn:

Few people know that Michael Jackson outbid even Paul McCartney himself as well as John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, to own the coveted copyrights to the Beatles’ music. By owning the copyrights to these timeless songs, Michael earned royalties every time Beatles songs were either played on the radio or performed or sold in stores.  While so many are star-struck by musicians and performers, the reality is that the money is in owning the copyrights.  Most musicians will never get to the point where they can own their own copyrights free and clear.  Record companies lock musicians and performers up in tight, multi-album deals where the ownership of the publishing rights resides with the record label.  Only when a musician, band or performer has made it big, fulfilled their multi-album deal and still remains relevant is there much of an opportunity to actually own the lion share of the most lucrative asset in the entertainment business – the publishing rights to the music.  So while so many are remembering Michael Jackson in unfavorable ways presently, his foresight to pay what was no doubt a staggering amount of money in 1985 for the Beatles’ collection was without doubt the best business decision he ever made, and perhaps the best business decision ever made by an entertainer.

In 1995, Michael merged his ATV collection (minus the rights to his own music) with that of Sony, creating what is now known as Sony/ATV. In late 2005, being in financial difficulty, Jackson provided Sony an option to buy 50% of his one-half interest in Sony/ATV and Sony gained more control over Sony/ATV.  (See NY Times and USA Today)  It does not appear as if Sony ever exercised its option to buy 50% of Jackson’s interest, although reports on this range from clearly contradictory to vague.  What reports do agree on is that at least 50% of his interest in Sony/ATV, presumably the 50% he retained complete control over, was pledged as collateral for a $270 million to $300 million loan.  Reports vary widely with respect to the value of Sony/ATV, ranging from $1 billion to $3 billion.  One report estimates the value at $30 billion, but that was likely a typo copy of the $3 billion figure.  I cannot imagine the catalog is worth that much, but if the $3 billion figure is accurate that would mean that even with Sony have rights to half of Jacksons ownership interest there would be enough value in the remaining 25% interest in Sony/ATV to cover Jackson’s reported debts and still have several hundred million dollars left over.  So expect a fight with much more detail to come.

NPR again

Lawyer 4 Musicians:

Every time one of the Beatles’ songs was played on the radio, which is virtually every minute of every day, Michael was earning money as the publisher.  For every song that was licensed in advertisements, tv shows, movies, greeting cards, etc. Michael got a check.  At the time of his death, the Beatles catalog would have been one of his most valuable assets.  Think about that; Michael Jackson albums sold in the 100’s of millions but he had more earning potential from another artist’s songs.

Obviously when we discuss the Beatles and Michael Jackson we are looking at musicians who are in a different stratosphere when compared to most indie musicians or even most major label acts.  However, the lesson that any musician can learn from both the Beatles and MJ is that control of publishing, control over who owns your music and how it is maintained, can be the life-blood for your retirement, and even for future generations.

If you want to know about George and Ringo’s songs, John Goins:

They should really call it Jackson’s ‘Lennon-McCartney’ catalog. He had them all except for ‘Love Me Do’, P.S. I Love You’, ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’.

But Ringo and George songs are a different story. In 1968, unlike J&P, they broke from Northern Songs, the company who eventually sold the rights to Jackson.

The only two songs Ringo wrote as a Beatle, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and ‘Octopuses Garden’ are owned by Ringo’s company, Startling Music Ltd.

As for George, he wrote, according to my calculations, 23 Beatles songs (I’m not counting stuff like ‘Dig it’ or ‘Flying’ where all four got credit). And while Jackson/Sony owns 13 or them, George’s company, Harrisongs Ltd. owns the other ten. Luckily for George’s heirs, those ten include his biggest hits. George’s golden age. The jackpot: ‘Something’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

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