Paul McCartney and Sony/ATV currently own the rights to the Beatles’ music. Some of The Beatles’ music was regained by Paul McCartney from Sony/ATV in 2017, thanks to the US Copyright law of 1967, which restores rights to original songwriters after 56 years.
For songs that McCartney wrote up until 1962, he got back his ownership rights and will continue to reclaim more till 2026, when he can reclaim the rights to all his Beatles songs. This is a significant victory for the former Beatle, as this had been a major battle since the 1980s.
Timeline of The Ownership of The Beatles’ Music
The tale of The Beatles’ music ownership is a long and complicated one, and in 50 years, one of music’s most valuable catalogs has changed hands multiple times.
1963 (Debut Album)
The Beatle’s debut album was published by Northern Songs, owned by The Beatles (John Lennon and Paul McCartney), their manager Brian Epstein and the publisher Dick James.
1965 (Northern Songs Goes Public)
By 1965, Northern Songs went public, and all four Beatles had a stake in the company, though Lennon and McCartney had a larger share. Lennon and McCartney each had 15% while Ringo Starr and George Harrison each split only 1.6%.
1969 (A Turning Point)
After Epstein died in 1969, James sold his stake in Northern Songs to ATV Music, despite counteroffers from the band members, giving ATV control of the catalog. Lennon and McCartney also eventually sold their shares to ATV that same year; hence, they were left with no stake in publishing their songs.
1981 (The Attempt To Regain Control)
ACC (Associated Communications Corporation), which was the parent company to ATV, owned by Lew Grade, dealt with a few losses during that time for which Lew Grade tried selling off assets, including ATV, to bounce back.
McCartney and Yoko Ono tried to buy Northern Songs from Lew Grade but to no avail as Grade had his eyes set on selling the entire ATV catalog, as opposed to just a portion.
Eventually, Robert Hamilton Holmes à Court launched a takeover campaign and gained control of ACC in 1982.
1985 (New Ownership)
ATV Music was sold to Michael Jackson in 1985, who bought it following Paul McCartney’s prior advice about the value of music publishing. The company had the rights to a 4000-song catalog, including 251 Beatles songs.
Jackson’s other holdings included the publishing rights to songs such as Elvis Presley Presley. He sold half of his stake in ATV to Sony in 1995, forming Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
2009-2016 (Michael Jackson’s Passing)
After Michael Jackson’s death, his 50% share went to his estate, which was controlled by his attorney John Branca, and music industry executive John McClain.
Jackson’s estate eventually sold its share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing to Sony, making Sony the sole owner of the rights to The Beatles’ music.
2017 (The Lawsuit)
In 2017, Paul McCartney filed a lawsuit to regain the copyrights. He won back ownership of 32 Beatles’ early releases in 2018, and more will become available by 2026.
However, Sony still has control over John Lennon’s share as they cut a deal with Yoko Ono, which allows them to maintain ownership of the songs until 70 years after his death, 2050 in this case.
The Beatles’ music ownership has been a long and complicated journey, with the copyrights changing hands over 60 years. The most recent victory for Paul McCartney was in 2017 when he regained the rights to some of The Beatles’ music following a private settlement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. By 2026, McCartney will regain control of all of The Beatles’ songs he wrote.