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Claim: Michael Jackson owned the rights to the Beatles' songs.
Origins: This is one of those items which is primarily true, but the answer needs to be heavily qualified in order to avoid being misleading.
First off, when we talk about someone owning the "rights" to songs, what we're discussing are publishing rights. Typically, songwriters assign the publishing rights for their songs to music publishing companies, who perform a number of marketing and promotional services to generate revenue for the songwriters they represent:
The Beatles assigned their publishing rights to Northern Songs, a company created by Beatles manager Brian Epstein and music publisher Dick James in 1963. The Beatles (particularly John Lennon and Paul McCartney) were soon earning so much money from songwriting royalties, record sales, concert performances, and merchandise licensing that they were losing over 90% of their income in taxes, and they were advised to find a way of receiving their revenue in the form of capital gains rather than income (the former being taxed at a much lower rate), such as selling their song rights or putting their money into a public company. The Beatles opted for the latter route, and Northern Songs went public on the London Stock Exchange in 1965. Initially, Lennon and McCartney each retained 15% of the shares, George Harrison and Ringo Starr held 1.6% between them, Brian Epstein's NEMS company was assigned 7.5%, and Dick James and Charles Silver (Northern Songs' chairman) retained a total of 37.5%. In 1969, however, the Beatles lost a buyout bid for control of Northern Songs when Dick James and Charles Silver sold their share of the company to
In 1984, ATV's 4,000-song music catalog was put up for sale, and Michael Jackson (who had coincidentally been introduced to the benefits of song ownership
Another key point here is that although Michael Jackson received 50% of the royalties generated by Beatles songs by virtue of his ownership of the publishing rights, Paul McCartney and John Lennon (and Lennon's estate, now that he's dead) have always received their 50% songwriter's share of the royalties for all Lennon-McCartney songs. Neither ATV's nor Michael Jackson's acquisition of Northern Songs changed that, and Michael Jackson did not receive royalties that would otherwise be going to the Beatles had he not acquired the publishing rights to their songs (except that, obviously, if Paul McCartney had managed to outbid Jackson for the publishing rights to the Beatles catalog, he and Lennon's estate would be splitting 100% of the royalties rather than 50%).
As a closing note, we should mention that Sony Corp. paid Michael Jackson
On 25 June 2009, Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest at a hospital in
Last updated: 25 June 2009
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