The ownership history of the Beatles song catalog is confusing and includes stakeholders like Sir Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Yoko Ono. Who owns the rights to the Beatles songs now?
McCartney regained rights to most Beatles songs in 2017.
In 2017, McCartney got back the copyrights to the Beatles catalog of songs in a private settlement with Sony ATV, which had owned them for years. McCartney had been battling for years to regain the copyright of songs he wrote with band members John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
New documentary focuses on a troubling time in Beatles’ history.
The history of the Beatles and their music is the subject of the three-part documentary The Beatles: Get Back, produced by Peter Jackson. The documentary features 60 hours of previously unseen footage by the Beatle’s company, Apple Corps. The documentary will air on Disney+ on Nov. 25–27.
The documentary focuses on a particularly trying time for the band in 1969. That year, McCartney and Lennon lost the rights to many of their songs. Music publisher Dick James sold his majority stake in their company, Northern Songs, to ATV Music without considering counteroffers from the band members.
Lennon and McCartney gave up the remaining stake in publishing their songs when they sold their shares of Northern Songs to ATV later that year, reports Billboard.com.
Michael Jackson bought the rights to many Beatles songs.
In the 1980s, McCartney reportedly told pop star Michael Jackson, who was a friend at the time, about the value of the Beatles catalog. So, when ATV Music was put up for sale, Jackson bought the company’s 4,000-song catalog for $47.5 million. That catalog included about 250 songs written by McCartney and Lennon, as well as others by top artists including The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and Bruce Springsteen.
However, it didn’t include the Beatles hit “Penny Lane,” because then ATV Music owner Robert Holmes à Court gifted that song to his daughter.
Sony/ATV owned the Beatles catalog for many years.
The Beatles catalog of songs eventually ended up in Sony's lap after Jackson sold half of his stake in ATV to the company for about $100 million in 1995. In 2006, when Jackson was having financial problems, Sony negotiated a deal that gave it the option to purchase Jackson’s 50 percent ownership in the future, Billboard.com reports.
Seven years after Jackson’s death, Sony paid his estate $750 million for his stake in the company and its music catalog, including the McCartney-Lennon songs.
Citing U.S. copyright laws, McCartney started his bid to retain rights to his songs in 2015. Under the law, the rights to songs published before 1978 can be given back to the songwriter after 56 years. After McCartney filed a lawsuit to regain rights to the Beatles songs, Sony/ATV eventually agreed to a private settlement that gave the music rights back to him.
What is the Beatles catalog of music worth?
According to Biography.com, the Beatles catalog is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion.