Michael Jackson Pays $40 Million for ATV Music : Beatles Song Catalogue Acquired

Times Staff Writer

Singer Michael Jackson has paid between $40 million and $50 million for a British music publishing company that controls the copyrights to nearly all songs written by the Beatles, sources close to Jackson confirmed Wednesday.

Jackson’s acquisition of ATV Music, a unit of the British entertainment conglomerate ACC, was described by industry experts as one of the largest music acquisitions ever by an individual. Involved are 40,000 song copyrights, including compositions by Little Richard, the Pointer Sisters, Pat Benatar and the Pretenders.

However, the heart of the deal is the catalogue of 251 songs written by Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney between 1964 and 1970. These include such often-recorded classics as “Yesterday,” “Michelle,” “Help,” “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be.”


The Beatles songs account for “a substantial amount of ATV’s overall income,” said the head of one major music publishing company that once tried to buy the catalogue. “About 80 of those songs are what we call ‘real serious earners,’ ” he said.

John Branca, Jackson’s attorney, would not comment on the deal Wednesday. However, Branca said Jackson recently had purchased several other music catalogues, including compositions by the rock group Sly and the Family Stone and such early rock and roll hits as “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.”

The ATV acquisition places Jackson--already one of the most successful performers in pop music--among the top 15 music publishers in the world, according to several music publishing experts.

The deal was the culmination of nearly a year of negotiations, according to sources, and resulted in Jackson’s outbidding several other companies, including London-based Virgin Records and, ironically, MPL Communications, owned by Paul McCartney.

McCartney and Lennon originally turned over control of copyrights to the songs purchased by Jackson to a company they formed in the 1960s called Northern Songs Ltd. They sold their interests in that company in the late 1960s “for a nominal sum, to get tax benefits of capital gain rather than income,” an attorney for the Beatles said.

Northern Songs was later acquired by ATV, according to a source. (Although McCartney and the estate of Lennon no longer control use of the songs, ATV still pays them royalties for each use. ATV recently authorized the use of Beatles songs in advertising for the first time.)

Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, McCartney has become a major music publisher himself by buying the rights to hundreds of songs, including such standards as “Autumn Leaves,” “Sentimental Journey” and “Stormy Weather,” as well as songs by the late Buddy Holly. He reportedly earns more than $50 million a year from record and song royalties.

Jackson is believed to have earned more than $50 million in royalties from his “Thriller” album, which has sold a record 39 million copies to date, according to CBS Records.

Asked how Jackson would finance the ATV acquisition, one source close to the singer laughed and replied, “Out of pocket. It was probably one of the simplest financing deals in history.”