Sony Says Paul McCartney Lawsuit Over Beatles Songs Is Unripe

Sir Paul McCartney performs - Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Field- Getty -H 2016
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Paul McCartney waited decades for his opportunity to reclaim rights to songs he authored as a member of The Beatles. Now, Sony/ATV Music Publishing is telling a judge he should have to cool his heels a little longer.

McCartney made his move in January, suing to confirm that under the termination provisions of U.S. copyright law, he gets to recapture his share. The lawsuit in New York federal court followed a stunning U.K. decision, Gloucester Place Music Ltd v. Le Bon, where it was ruled late last year in a dispute involving Duran Duran songs that American termination law took a backseat to an interpretation of contracts under English law. 

"As an initial matter, SATV has made no statement challenging the validity of Plaintiff’s termination notices," states Sony in a letter to the judge on Monday in anticipation of a conference that will lay out its forthcoming motion to dismiss. "Indeed, it has acknowledged they are valid, so there is no controversy regarding this issue. Nor has SATV claimed that Plaintiff’s service of the notices breached any agreement and SATV may never make such a claim. The complaint thus impermissibly seeks an advisory opinion on a hypothetical claim that depends on both the outcome of Gloucester and contingent future actions that may never occur."

That makes McCartney's lawsuit "unripe," according to Sony's counsel Donald Zakarin.

"Assuming that a U.S. forum would ever be appropriate for the determination of U.K. law, a dismissal without prejudice now would spare this Court the need to issue a decision that may be unnecessary pending the outcome of Gloucester while assuring that, if and when a claim is ever ripe, U.K. law will have been settled," he writes.

If McCartney is successful, he will have terminated a copyright grant 18 months hence.

Even though Sony is presenting no challenge to McCartney's termination — at least, not yet and so it claims — Sony clearly wants an English court deciding limitations on the rights reclamation.

"Here, Plaintiff is a U.K. citizen and the Grants were negotiated and entered into in the U.K. with U.K. companies with respect to songs presumably written in the U.K. in return for payment in the U.K," states Sony's papers, echoing its affiliate's position in the Duran Duran litigation. "This Court would therefore presumably look to the Gloucester case, which is unsettled as it is currently being appealed."

In fact, Sony says McCartney "is clearly forum shopping...This Court should apply its discretion, dismiss this case, and allow the U.K. court to determine relevant issues of U.K. contract law."