Sony/ATV sued over Beatles documentary

November 2013

Music publishing, film & TV


CMU Daily reports that a US company has sued Sony/ATV and The Beatles’ company Apple Corps in a dispute over a new documentary covering the fab four’s first ever US concert in Washington back in 1964. The lawsuit, filed in the New York courts last week, is actually a rework of an earlier lawsuit the same company pursued but later withdrew in the Californian jurisdiction.

Ace Arts LLC acquired footage of the Washington gig and used it as the core of a documentary about The Beatles’ first trip to the US. According to the firm’s lawsuit, it met with Apple Corps who confirmed that, while it controlled the legendary band’s trademarks and (under US law) publicity rights, it did not own the copyright in the live recording.

The copyrights in many of the songs performed at the gig, meanwhile, are controlled by the Sony/ATV music publishing firm, which controls much of the Lennon/McCartney catalogue. To that end Ace Arts LLC reached a licensing deal with Sony/ATV, and on the back of that invested a substantial million dollar plus sum completing its documentary and later reached a distribution deal for the film with Screenvision Exhibition.

At that point, Ace alleges that Sony/ATV withdrew its synchronisation licences for the use of the Beatles songs, seemingly because it had learned that Apple Corps was also planning to make and release a film about and featuring the 1964 concert. It seems that Sony/ATV’s licence agreement with Ace Arts was subject to the approval of Apple Corps, allowing the publisher to backtrack on it, and enter into a new arrangement with the Beatles company instead.

That scuppered Ace Arts’ other deal with Screenvision Exhibition, leading to the documentary maker to sue the Sony publisher, seeking $100 million in damages to cover the costs incurred in producing the aborted documentary, and the revenues the producer reckons it could have generated had the film been released. According to Law 360, the case centres on US competition law, citing the country’s Sherman Act, and other federal, state and common law provisions. The Californian claim said that Sony/ATV and Apple Corps conspired to restrain trade by keeping the plaintiffs’ documentary off the market in violation of the Sherman Act and that suit also accused Sony/ATV of misusing its copyrights and claimed both companies wrongfully interfered with Ace Arts’ distribution contract in a bid to shield Apple Corps’ own film of the concert from competition on iTunes. and

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