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What Happened to Paul's Songs? A songwriter looks at the importance of knowing your business

What Happened to Paul's Songs has a look at the famous feud among the Beatles' Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Sony over Paul's song copyrights

As songwriters in the new music business, it's important to understand a thing or two about music publishing and what it means to sign a contract when you're getting started.

As a founding member of the wildly successful band The Beatles, Paul McCartney wrote many of the band's hits with singer John Lennon.

Here is a video clip of Paul talking about his experience as a songwriter, and laying out the struggles he faced with his intellectual property copyrights:

Paul brings up a few interesting points during this interview.

1. The right of the author to choose the commercial usage of his songs -

For example, the use of "Revolution" in the Nike commercial.

He mentioned in the interview that the Beatles would have preferred not to allow the song to be used in that way, because it meant more to the fans that it be a statement in and of itself.

He cites the Buddy Holly example as an alternative view point.

Since Buddy had allowed his songs to be used in commercials, and the family and heirs knew that, it was easy to see why the publishers would continue to allow commercial uses for those songs.

The point he is making is that artists should have some measure of moral rights to choose where and how their works should be exploited.[1]

Many contracts allow the songwriter to choose where and how the songs are used commercially for synchronization.

As a new writer, it's tough to keep all your rights, but as you gain clout and stature, you can exercise more and more control in your contracts.

That's the way negotiations work. Which brings us to another point Paul brings us.

2. Importance of knowing your business

This is called publishing. Publishing is the ownership of your song in the form of a copyright.

Copyright is the form of legal protection that claims your songs and the rights to it for you and your heirs.

As a songwriter when you create a song, you create intellectual property (IP) in the form of a copyright.

Your copyright is a bundle of rights that protect your rights to all the copies that can be made from your songs.

This includes performing the song in a public place, making and selling recordings of your song, printing sheet music or online lyrics display, and other uses.

When you write a song, you create IP, and that copyright is valuable.

In the video interview Paul McCartney talked about how early in his career he was "managed" into signing the rights to his songs away.

This happens to a lot of young writers when they are not educated about the music business.

You don't have to know everything to know the basics of what it takes to make money in your field of business.

If you're going to take your songwriting seriously, you need to know something about the business of how to protect and monetize your works.

Even if it's not about the money, as it isn't for Paul, you still are responsible for all the songs you write into the world. It's your responsibility to steward the money that can come from those songs into the world, because if you don't, someone else will, just as Paul warned.

It is your job as the creator of the song, the parent, to take care of the song baby. No one else will ever love and protect it as well as you will, even the most well-meaning publisher will still not share the same bond you do with your songs.

Therefore, if you're going to write, you need to take it seriously enough to take care of business.

3. This thing called a reversion -

In finding out what happened to Paul's songs, we see that the story doesn't end with Michael Jackson.

The Jackson Estate sold off Paul's songs back to Sony, and before his window expired, McCartney's attorneys filed a preemptive lawsuit against the publisher to assert the rights of reversion to the song catalog.

A little background if you please.

In the early days of music publishing as a business, there were more than a few complaints that some writers were duped into signing away their valuable publishing and even writer's shares of their songs without understanding what they were doing.

The publishers were accused of taking advantage of the songwriters, and therefore in the 1976 copyright reform, songwriters were given an official right and process of reclaiming their song copyrights.

This article in Billboard does a good job of laying out the process of reclaiming lost copyrights, and even goes into a little bit of detail about how to do it.

A reversion is when the copyright reverts to the original owner, the songwriter.

Paul McCartney didn't have to go through with a lawsuit to Sony, because the two were able to mutually agree on an undisclosed settlement.

Perhaps observing that there have been fewer commercial advertisements using Beatles songs since the 2018 settlement, one can guess at some of terms and conditions of their agreement.


The Beatles left an indelible mark on the fabric of rock and roll music around the world and shaped the musical landscape of the day and today.

Lessons gleaned from studying the career of legendary artists and songwriters such as the Beatles can teach the aspiring music business professional plenty about what to do and not to do in the new music industry.


The Beatles are one of the legendary artist brands case studied by Songpreneurs Leadership Community of songwriters and music business entrepreneurs online in 2019.

To participate in our work, please connect with us at HQ Group, or sign up for our email newsletter or one of our online courses.

Endnotes -

[1] Exploited is the industry standard term that means to use a copyright to make money. We prefer the term employ the copyright and established a legal precedent for using the term in contracts in 2011.

Christman, Ed (2016, March 18) "Will Paul McCartney Get The Rights To His Beatles Songs Back? He's Already Working On It" Billboard retrieved 02/06/2020