Michael Jackson's ownership of Beatles music

I know he owns it, I just can’t remember how this came about, other than the obvious fact that his friendship with Paul McCartney was ruined. Can somebody clue me in?

I don’t know if this exactly answers your question, but I just happend to run across this:

Does Michael Jackson control the Beatles music library?

Answered by some guy name Cecil, or something.

Also keep in mind that The Beatles tunes IIRC did not give the “renewal” rights to the buyers. So any author can retrieve his rights 35 years after the original copyrighting for a renewal period. It might be interesting to follow up and see if McCartney is doing this. American artists were allowed to sell the renewals, and did, so guys like Chuck Berry were just totally screwed. I don’t think UK artists could sell the renewal rights.

A salient point is when was was the 35-year rights reversion introduced into UK law? It wasn’t added to US copyright law until 1978. (I know it was introduced earlier in the UK, but I don’t remember when.)

For the full, tangled story of the Beatles’s publishing company, see here:


Publishing rights to songs get bought and sold all the time–it’s ordinary business practice in the music industry. Paul McCartney owns the publishing rights to Buddy Holly’s songs, for example. (Or at least he did a while ago. Maybe he’s sold 'em to Michael Jackson by now.)

Wumpus, when I studied copyright law the 35 year rule was part of the pre-1978 Act (1909?). I don’t do much copyright work so I don’t remember. I don’t remember if the 78 act kept it.

DPWhite: According to this page, this is how it works now for works created before 1978:


“For pre-1978 copyrights, transfers of renewal rights made before January 1, 1978 may be terminated, and the copyrights recaptured, effective during a 5-year period beginning at the end of the 56th year of protection (“renewal termination”).”

56 years is, of course, equal to the two 28-years terms of the old law. So if you created a work in 1977 and sold the rights to someone else, you couldn’t recapture the rights until 2033.

According to this post:


in the pre-1978 era, authors could assign the right to renew their copyright to a licensee. In other words, authors could transfer the full period of copyright protection to another party. However, if the author died before the first 28-year period was up, the agreement to renew the copyright in the licensee’s name was not binding on the author’s heirs.

From what I know of music history, I think it was standard practice pre-1978 for musicians to sell the right to renew their copyrights. Certainly the dire tales of big jazz and rock stars who made zillion-selling records yet never saw a penny of it don’t seem to contain footnotes saying, “but then they got their copyright back 28 years later.”

Thanks Wumpus!

Thank you very much, everyone.
I do remember reading about McCartney buying Buddy Holly’s catalog; though at least he did the deed long after Holly had passed away.

Hmmm. Now that you mention it, there was that “Paul is dead” scare towards the end of The Beatles. I wonder. :wink: