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Lawyer says Sony/ATV’s delaying tactics are “devaluing” Paul McCartney’s rights

By | Published on Thursday 30 March 2017

Paul McCartney

Lawyers for Paul McCartney have responded to the recent bid by Sony/ATV to have his US lawsuit in relation to the reversion or termination right under American copyright law dismissed, telling the judge that the major music publisher is basically employing delaying tactics that puts “a cloud over the title to his works” and “devalues his rights”.

As much previously reported, under US copyright law a songwriter who assigns their rights to a music publisher has the statutory right to terminate that assignment agreement after 35 years, or 56 years for copyrights assigned before the termination right was introduced in the late 1970s. That right to terminate only really kicked in a few years back – ie 35 years after it was introduced – and so various technicalities around it are still be explored.

One big fat technicality is what happens with non-US songwriters who – say – assigned their rights to a British publisher under English law. Can those writers still reclaim the US rights in their songs? Or, more specifically, can those non-US publishing contracts interfere with the statutory right under American law, or make it impractical to employ? And if so, what specific contract terms are able to do the interfering?

The test case on all this from an English law perspective is Duran Duran’s legal battle with a Sony/ATV subsidiary called Gloucester Place Music. The publisher won at first instance but Duran Duran are now appealing. If Sony/ATV do ultimately prevail in court, a precedent would be set that said English publishing contracts can interfere with the US termination right, depending on how they are written of course.

Either way, McCartney is seeking assurances from Sony/ATV that it won’t interfere in his exercising of the termination right. He wants to reclaim the US rights in his half of the Lennon/McCartney songs repertoire. But the major publisher – while not specifically saying it will throw any spanners in the work as he goes through the termination process – hasn’t as yet provided those all important assurances. It is seemingly waiting to see how the Duran Duran case turns out before making any commitments.

McCartney went to court earlier this year in a bid to get those assurances sooner rather than later. But earlier this month Sony/ATV argued that the case should be dismissed, on the basis that there wasn’t actually currently a dispute between it and McCartney – because it hasn’t actually said it plans to interfere with the termination process – and anyway it would be wrong to discuss what is a matter of English law before the UK courts have had a chance to rule on the Duran Duran case.

Such delaying tactics are damaging for McCartney, his lawyers said in a response this week, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Lawyer Michael Jacobs argues: “Delay would not simplify the parties’ dispute, but it would prejudice McCartney. As long as Sony/ATV refuses to disavow any right to sue for breach of contract, McCartney has a cloud over the title to his works, which devalues his rights”.

Jacobs continues: “By seeking to dismiss this lawsuit, Sony/ATV intends to leave McCartney in suspense. Is he exposed to claims for damages if he relies on his undisputed rights under US copyright law or not? Will it sue him for breach of contract or not? Can he license his copyrights as his termination notices become effective, or does that present legal risks? Will third parties be willing to negotiate with McCartney, and at what reduction in price, concerned that they may ultimately face a Sony/ATV lawsuit for interference with contractual relations?”

Meanwhile, on Sony/ATV’s argument that the UK case should be resolved before a US court gets involved in this debate, Jacobs adds: “Because McCartney’s termination notices apply only to his rights arising under US copyright law, the court need not undertake a traditional conflicts of laws analysis”.