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Sony/ATV sued over Beatles documentary

By | Published on Tuesday 22 October 2013

Sony ATV

A US company has sued Sony/ATV and The Beatles’ company Apple Corps in a dispute over a new documentary covering the fab four’s first ever US concert in Washington back in 1964. The lawsuit, filed in the New York courts last week, is actually a rework of an earlier lawsuit the same company pursued but later withdrew in the Californian jurisdiction.

Ace Arts LLC acquired footage of the Washington gig and used it as the core of a documentary about The Beatles’ first trip to the US. According to the firm’s lawsuit, it met with Apple Corps who confirmed that, while it controlled the legendary band’s trademarks and (under US law) publicity rights, it did not own the copyright in the live recording.

The copyrights in many of the songs performed at the gig, meanwhile, are controlled by the Sony/ATV music publishing firm, which – of course – owns much of the Lennon/McCartney catalogue. To that end Ace Arts LLC reached a licensing deal with the publishing major, and on the back of that invested over a million in total completing its documentary, later reaching a distribution deal for the film with Screenvision Exhibition.

But at that point, says Ace Arts, Sony/ATV withdrew its sync licence for use of the Beatles songs, seemingly because it had learned that Apple Corps was also planning to make and release a film about and featuring the 1964 concert. It seems that Sony/ATV’s licence agreement with Ace Arts was subject to the approval of Apple Corps, allowing the publisher to backtrack on it, and enter into a new arrangement with the Beatles company instead.

That scuppered Ace Arts’ other deal with Screenvision Exhibition, leading to the documentary maker suing the Sony publisher, seeking $100 million in damages to cover the costs incurred in producing the aborted documentary, and the revenues the producer reckons it could have generated had the film been released.

According to Law 360, the case centres on US competition law, citing the country’s Sherman Act, and other federal, state and common law provisions.