Hello Goodbye: Jackson's Beatles rights at risk

Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:29am EDT
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By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Beatles For Sale?

The Fab Four's prized catalog -- specifically 267 songs mostly written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney -- is embarking on a long and winding road of ownership uncertainty following the death of Michael Jackson on Thursday.

The pop singer and Sony Corp's Sony Music arm operated a lucrative joint venture that either owns or administers the copyrights to about 750,000 compositions written by the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers.

Industry analysts estimate that Sony/ATV Music Publishing is worth at least $1 billion, making Jackson one savvy entertainer. His initial investment cost him $47.5 million in 1985. Music publishing is considered a license to print money. Not quite as exciting as the piracy-ravaged recorded-music side, it involves collecting royalties from such diverse avenues as downloads, radio airplay and videogames.

But mystery now surrounds the beneficial ownership of Jackson's stake. According to a lawsuit filed in 2002 by a creditor, he secured bank loans totaling $270 million two years earlier using both his Sony/ATV stake and the copyrights to his own songs as collateral.

Jackson lived an extravagant lifestyle, even as his commercial appeal dwindled amid damaging child-abuse allegations and changing music tastes. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2005 that his cash reserves ran so low earlier that year that he worried about paying his electric bill. The paper reported earlier this month that he had racked up about $500 million of debt.


A clearer picture of his finances will emerge during the administration period of his estate that usually lasts about 18 months, said Renee Gabbard of the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker in Costa Mesa, California.   Continued...

<p>U.S. pop star Michael Jackson gestures during a news conference at the O2 Arena in London in this March 5, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files (</p>