How Michael Got the Beatles Catalogue & ATV Music Publishing
Michael Jackson acquired ATV Music Publishing in 1985 and merged it with Sony a decade later.
By the mid-1980s, ATV Music Publishing and Pye Records were both up for sale. The companies were bought relatively cheaply by Australian businessman Robert Holmes à Court, who asset-stripped them and sacked many long serving employees, before selling them on again. During this time, American singer Michael Jackson was recording "Say Say Say" for Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace album. Jackson stayed at the home of McCartney and his wife Linda during the recording sessions, becoming friendly with both. One evening whilst at the dining table, McCartney brought out a booklet displaying all the songs to which he owned the publishing rights. He explained that music publishing was a way to make big money. Jackson replied by telling McCartney that he would buy The Beatles' songs one day. "Great. Good joke", McCartney laughed.
Shortly afterward, John Branca, Jackson's attorney, advised the singer that the Northern Songs catalogue was up for sale. Warned of the competition he would face in buying such popular songs, Jackson remained resolute in his decision to purchase them. Branca approached McCartney's attorney to query whether the Beatle was planning to bid. The attorney stated he wasn't; it was "too pricey". McCartney had previously attempted to purchase Northern Songs alongside John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono in 1981 for $20 million; the pair would each pay $10 million. Ono refused as she thought it was too high a price. Not wanting to spend the $20 million himself, McCartney let the sale fall through. After months of negotiating, Branca closed the deal and purchased Northern Songs on Jackson's behalf for $47.5 million.
In an analysis of the acquisition, Los Angeles Times noted that if "Yesterday" were to earn $100,000 a year in royalties, the Lennon estate and McCartney would divide 50% of the income; $25,000 each. The publisher, Jackson, would receive the other 50%; $50,000. It was added that "Yesterday" in particular would earn considerably more than $100,000 a year. The publisher would also control the use of the song in films, commercials and stage productions. Jackson went on to use the Beatles' songs in numerous commercials, feeling that it would enable a new generation of fans to enjoy the music. McCartney, who himself had used the Buddy Holly song catalogue in commercials, felt saddened. Privately, Jackson was reported to have expressed exasperation at McCartney's attitude; he felt that the musician should have paid for the songs he had written. At the time, McCartney was one of the richest entertainers in the world, with a net worth of $560 million and a royalty income of $41 million. Jackson stated, "If he didn't want to invest $47.5 million in his own songs, then he shouldn't come crying to me now".
Ono was pleased that Jackson had acquired Northern Songs and called it a "blessing". Speaking in November, 1990, Ono stated, "Businessmen who aren't artists themselves wouldn't have the consideration Michael has. He loves the songs. He's very caring." She added that if she and McCartney were to own the songs, there would certainly be arguments. Ono explained that neither she or McCartney needed that. "If Paul got the songs, people would have said, 'Paul finally got John'. And if I got them, they'd say, 'Oh, the dragon lady strikes again'".