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Peace, Love, and Litigation

The following article is from the book Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids.

The Beatles were famous ambassadors for peace and love, but they also generated a lot of lawsuits. Here are some of them.

BEATLES VS. EMI: From 1979 through 2006, the Beatles skirmished with the record company EMI five different times. Four times, it was over royalties. The remaining issue was about EMI’s plans to release the Red (1962–1966) and Blue (1967–1970) albums on CD in 1991 without the band’s permission. The Beatles won every time, but after winning the last case and establishing their veto rights, they let EMI release the albums anyway.

BEATLES VS. APPLE: Steve Jobs reportedly named his fledgling company Apple in part because he was a Beatles fan and they’d named their own multimedia company Apple Corps, which owned their record company Apple Records. The Beatles threatened to sue, and in 1981, Jobs’s Apple settled by paying $80,000 and agreeing to stay out of the music business.

It didn’t last long. In 1989 the Beatles’ Apple Corps noted that Apple computers were being used to play, record, and mix music. The band sued again. This time, the computer company paid $26 million and won the right to create “goods and services… used to reproduce, run, play, or otherwise deliver” music, but not any actual music.

Then came iTunes, and Apple Corps believed that the music store violated the terms of the agreement. So in 2006, they went back to court, but this time the Beatles lost, with the judge ruling that selling music was not the same as creating it. Faced with the prospect of endless appeals and litigation, the two companies came up with an agreement, reportedly involving Apple Computers spending half a billion dollars to buy the rights to everything called “Apple” and then leasing the music rights back to Apple Corps. Still, Beatles songs didn’t appear in the iTunes Store until 2010 because the band’s albums were re-released in digitally remastered form in 2009 and Apple Records wanted a year to sell CDs before offering the songs online.

(YouTube link)

BEATLES PUBLISHER VS. SESAME STREET: In 1965, as a way of reducing their income taxes, the Beatles converted their Northern Songs music publishing company into a public company, selling shares of it on the London Stock Exchange. But the tactic backfired, and control of their songs passed out of their hands and to ATV, a large media company that bought controlling interest. ATV was aggressive in protecting its profits and in 1984 sued Sesame Street Records for several million dollars for two parodies that played on Sesame Street: “Letter B,” sung by puppet beetles in the style of “Let It Be,” and “Hey Food,” sung by the Cookie Monster in the style of “Hey Jude.” The suit ended only when Michael Jackson bought ATV’s rights to the Beatles’ song collection in 1984. Under Jackson’s new management, the lawsuit was settled for $50, which was paid out-of-pocket by composer Christopher Cerf, who wrote the parodies. In return, he got a nice letter from Paul McCartney, who said he liked the songs.

BEATLES PUBLISHER VS. “THE RUTLES”: The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash was a one-shot TV parody of the Beatles, produced in 1978 by Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live, and appearing on both British and American TV. Monty Python’s Eric Idle wrote the script and starred as the Paul character. The songs were written (in a devastatingly effective imitation of the Beatles’ style) by Neil Innes, a member of the surreal Bonzo Dog Band. George Harrison was also in on the joke, and appeared as a TV reporter. As they so often did, ATV sued. In the end, Innes was forced to share half of his songwriting profits with ATV.

(YouTube link)

BEATLES VS. NIKE: In 1987 Capitol Records and Michael Jackson sold the rights to use the song “Revolution” in a shoe commercial. The Beatles sued, the case ended in a secret settlement out of court, and Nike stopped using the song.


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids. Weighing in at over 400 pages, it's a fact-a-palooza of obscure information.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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