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  • Denny Esford

Defending Against a Beatle – A Copyright Battle in the UK

So now that you have some background information, let’s go deeper into the current case. To recap, Paul McCartney is currently involved in a case against his publishers over the copyrights to a large collection of his works. McCartney has properly served Termination Notices to the Defendants, but Defendants will not admit that they are effective nor that they will forfeit any additional contract claims against McCartney. As such, we are now waiting to see if the Court will grant McCartney’s Declaratory Judgment.


Defendants here are being especially difficult, and for reasons you may not expect. It is unsurprising that they do not want to give up the copyrights, but one of the major reasons is the band Duran Duran. Members of the band are currently involved in a similar case in front of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, but it looks like the artists may not win that case.


Duran Duran also attempted to exercise termination rights against a Sony subsidiary, Gloucester Place Music. However, instead of seeking termination, Duran Duran pursued a breach of contract claim. The High Court issued an opinion in early December agreeing with the Sony subsidiary, that publishing agreements preclude Defendants such as Duran Duran from exercising their termination rights, and therefor actually breached the subject publishing agreement by attempting to exercise those termination rights..


The key to McCartney’s case is U.S. law – also the reason that the members of Duran Duran were unsuccessful. Unlike U.S. law, in the U.K., termination rights do not supersede contractual rights when applied to copyrights. This fact, along with the band’s failure to present admissible expert evidence on U.S. law, led to the Court’s decision not to allow Duran Duran to make the argument that US law would protect them.


Before the decision in the Duran Duran case came out, the chairman and CEO of Defendants indicated to McCartney’s attorney that Duran Duran may lose their similar lawsuit. If that were to happen, the CEO thought that McCartney would be “more interested in talking” to the Defendants about the Termination Notices.


It seems clear that the Defendants in the case at hand are waiting until the final decision is made in the Duran Duran case in an attempt to avoid complying with the Termination Notices. But, will a UK case be persuasive to a US judge applying US law, which allows these terminations to prevail against contract claims? Part 3 of this series will discuss just that.

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