« Classic Hits

McCartney to own "Yesterday," eventually.

by Mark Cartwright

Paul McCartney is on his way to owning his own songs.  It's only going to take five more years.  Five years might sound like a long time, but when you've been waiting 51 years, what's another five?
 In five years,  Paul McCartney will be in his late seventies, will finally have the right to get back the songs he and John Lennon wrote. You see: the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act says that songs written prior to 1978 return the rights to the songs back to the actual songwriter after 56 years.  How did the John and Paul lose their songs in the first place?  I decided to look into it.  I hope I have it right for the most part.  I'm certainly not a Beatles Historian by any stretch.

The first thing you should know, is that the music industry is full of ruthless, greedy people.

Back in April of 1969, The Beatles held 27% of the capital in their publishing company, which was called Northern Songs. Of course, being the song writers, they thought it would be nice to actually own control of the company and their songs.  So they were trying to buy another 23.1% from other shareholders, (to give them 50.1% ownership).  Meanwhile, their former partner and publisher, Dick James had opened secret negotiations to sell the rights to television executive Lew Grade, who already owned 35%.  (Nice, huh?)  Also at this time, after the death of their manager Brian Epstein, the Beatles were trying to keep outside evils from trying to take over control of his management company, NEMS Enterprises, (How much would you pay to become the Beatles manager?)  so they were trying to buy that as well, and the two ventures were stretching the Beatles' finances to their limit.

Further complicating things, was the fact that Lennon was now represented by Allen Klein, and McCartney was represented by John Eastman, who of course also wanted their own pockets involved.  They negotiated to buy the needed shares, and were close to a deal.  But Klein thought he could get a better deal.  Eastman disagreed, as he thought it was too risky.  Add to this that McCartney had been secretly buying extra shares of Northern Songs, meaning he and Lennon no longer had a 50/50 split, further complicating things.

Lennon really blew things up when he announced in a board meeting that he wasn't prepared to be "f****d around by men in suits sitting on their fat arses in the city."  Representatives for the needed shareholders took offense, and cut off negotiations, leaving the door wide open for Lew Grade, who really only needed 15% more shares to take over.  He succeeded, and was able to pay less per share than the Beatles had offered.  By December of '69 he had acquired 92% of the shares.

Years later, when Grade was willing to part with Northern Songs, McCartney could have bought it for 20 million, but he called Yoko Ono, since John's songs were involved, and she thought they could get a better deal.  Michael Jackson ended up paying over 47 million for the songs.

Photo By United Press International (UPI Telephoto) Cropping and retouching: User:Indopug and User:Misterweiss [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons