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Sony/ATV seeks dismissal of latest case over Beatles concert documentary 

By | Published on Friday 6 July 2018


Sony/ATV has asked a New York court to dismiss the latest legal battle in relation to a documentary film about the first ever Beatles concert Stateside.

This dispute goes back years, when in 2013 a company called Ace Arts sued the Sony music publisher for going back on a provisional agreement to license the use of certain songs in its documentary. Said doc features footage of the fab four’s first ever US concert in Washington in 1964 in which they perform songs controlled by Sony/ATV.

Ace Arts said that Sony/ATV had agreed to provide a licence to allow those songs to be featured in the documentary, but then withdrew that licence citing a clause that said the deal was subject to the approval of Beatles company Apple Corps. Ace Arts alleged that the licence was withdrawn because Apple and Sony had decided to collaborate on their own documentary about the Washington show.

While that lawsuit went through the motions in the US, another legal battle in relation to the use of the Beatles footage in the Ace Arts documentary went before the High Court in the UK in 2015. Sony and Apple won that case, resulting in the music publisher requesting that the US action be dismissed. Which it subsequently was.

But now there is a new dispute over a reworked version of the documentary. Ace Arts reckons that the new version uses the 1964 concert footage in such a way that the inclusion of Sony/ATV controlled songs is now ‘fair use’ under American copyright law.

The fair use argument was actually unsuccessfully used in the UK case. Though it was noted at the time that the producer of the documentary could re-edit the film in a bid to make it compliant with the fair use principle of American copyright.

However, Sony/ATV argues that the new version of the documentary now being peddled by Ace Arts nevertheless breaches an injunction issued by the UK court in relation to future use of the footage that made up the film.

Things are complicated by the involvement of a company called WPMC Ltd in the UK lawsuit. WMPC was a partner of Ace Arts in this project and seemingly controlled the master copy of the documentary. It went into liquidation after the 2015 ruling in the High Court, and it seems that Sony bought the rights in the master copy from the liquidator, subsequently assigning those rights over to Apple Corp.

All of which, Sony/ATV reckons, means Ace Arts does not have the right to distribute even the reworked documentary. It also reckons that any litigation involving the distribution of the film in the US must now involve Apple, as it is the owner of the rights in the original footage being exploited.

It is Ace Arts that kick-started the latest legal action in relation to its documentary, as it seeks the all-clear to distribute its film without Sony/ATV’s interference.

Responding to that lawsuit, Sony/ATV wrote this week – according to Law 360 – that: “Despite the explicit requirements of the UK injunction order … Ace now claims that it has re-edited the original documentary … the contents of which it has not disclosed, the authority for which is nonexistent and its possession of such original documentary being in violation of the UK injunction order”.