Most copyright laws in the United States come with a time limit. In the case of music, publishing rights can be recaptured after 56 years for any music that was written before 1978. For songs written after 1978, one only has to wait 35 years before the publishing rights can be recaptured.
The ability to recapture the publishing rights to older music certainly makes a strong case for living a long life, something musicians seem to be less likely to achieve the more successful they are. Nevertheless, Paul McCartney is one of the few original rock stars to live long enough to reclaim the publishing rights to some of his most famous songs.
According to Billboard, McCartney has begun taking steps to reclaim the publishing rights of some of the most famous songs he wrote and performed when he was with The Beatles. McCartney is not seeking the rights to all of the songs The Beatles are known for, since many of them were written or co-written by John Lennon. According to documents filed with the U.S. Copyright Office in December, McCartney is seeking to reclaim the publishing rights of 32 of the famous band’s songs.
The time limits on copyrights exist for a couple reasons. The first is to prevent on estate from holding on to the rights of a particular work indefinitely and creating a sort of monopoly on that work. The copyright law also gives a time limit of at least a few dozen years to give the work in question time to grow stale. As people tend to be more fascinated with the new than the old, the law gives the original copyright holders of the work the opportunity to capitalize on the work in the years when the work is at its most valuable.
But the music of The Beatles has proven to be timeless. Although it’s nowhere near as popular as it was in the 1960s, many of the songs are still very well known, including many of the songs McCartney is seeking the publishing rights to, such as Hey Jude.
Long after the band broke up, many people have continued to perform and reproduce the original songs of The Beatles in a variety of forms. Their music has been made into a Broadway show, a Cirque du Soleil show, a movie, and a videogame. Even today people are continuing to listen to, interact with, and be inspired by their groundbreaking music.
As a result, the music clearly still has plenty of value and there’s no doubt McCartney could put it to good use. Far from a washed up former rock star, McCartney has remained active as a singer/songwriter and music producer. With the publishing rights to some of his first, and most popular, songs, McCartney will be able to reuse, republish, and redistribute the music he wrote and performed when he was just starting out in his career. At this point there’s no way to know exactly what McCartney plans to do with the publishing rights to these songs, but there’s no doubt it will be exciting and worth listening to.
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