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Beatles company sued over concert footage in new documentary

By | Published on Thursday 15 September 2016

The Beatles

Beatles company Apple Corps is being sued over the new Ron Howard-directed documentary ‘The Beatles: Eight Days A Week’, which will premiere in cinemas and on video-on-demand service Hulu this weekend. The litigation relates to 30 minutes of footage of the band’s famous concert at the Shea Stadium in New York in 1965, which is featured in the documentary.

The lawsuit is being pursued by Sid Bernstein Presents LLC, the company of the late American concert promoter who promoted the 1965 show. The firm argues that it is the rightful owner of the copyright in the film, because Bernstein instigated and paid for the show to take place.

The original concert film was actually made by Ed Sullivan’s Sullivan Productions, Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises and the Beatles own Subafilms company, and it seems those entities were of the opinion that they were the copyright owners.

Sid Bernstein Presents itself acknowledges that Apple Corp and Subafilms subsequently acquired the rights in the film via a deal with Sullivan Productions and NEMS. But, the Bernstein company seems to say, that wasn’t a deal Sullivan Productions and NEMS were in a position to do.

Says the lawsuit: “By reason of being the producer of and having made creative contributions to the 1965 Shea Stadium performance, as well as being the employer for hire of the Beatles and the opening acts, who performed at his instance and expense, Sid Bernstein was the dominant, and hence sole, author of the copyrightable work embodied in the master tapes, and the sole owner of all exclusive rights therein”.

According to Billboard, once the Bernstein company became aware of the plan to include a 30 minute remastered version of the Shea Stadium film as part of the new documentary, it first unsuccessfully attempted to confirm its ownership of the rights in the recording with the US Copyright Office, and then asserted its rights anyway to Apple Corp, urging the firm to enter into a licensing deal around the content. But no such deal occurred.

The lawsuit wants the courts to confirm Sid Bernstein Presents as the owner – or at least co-owner – of the copyright in the Shea Stadium footage, and that any future or previous use of the concert film without the plaintiff’s permission constitutes copyright infringement.

Apple Corps is yet to respond.

Meanwhile, surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are due to attend the film’s premiere at the Odeon on London’s Leicester Square tonight. Here’s the trailer: