The courtroom hit parade: The Beatles' top ten (lawsuits)
They are back where they have so often been since breaking up - in the law courts. This time, the world's most famous band is taking on EMI (again). Martin Hickman counts down their greatest legal hits
Friday 01 September 2006
10 1971: McCartney vs the rest of The Beatles
The Beatles did not just break up; they had a messy divorce. Publicly, the band split in April 1970 when an increasingly frustrated Paul McCartney announced prior to the release of his solo album, McCartney, that the Beatles would never work together again. But in a foretaste of the legal disputes that would drag on for years - mostly over money and variously involving royalties, bootlegs, and internet downloading - the career of the 1960s troubadours was actually terminated in the law courts.
Irked by the management of the foul-mouthed American Allen Klein, McCartney sought to extricate himself from the Beatles on 31 December 1970 by filing a lawsuit against his fellow moptops, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, at the High Court.
A judge agreed with his case and the bassist and co-songwriter was legally divided from the group. According to reports, John, George and Ringo subsequently threw bricks through the window of McCartney's home. All together now... All You Need Is Love...
9 1981: Beatles versus Apple (Round 1)
The Beatles' record label, Apple (whose logo is a halved Granny Smith) took on a new upstart company with the cheek to call itself Apple - Apple Computer (logo: a half-munched apple). After the baring of lawyers' teeth, Apple Computer agreed - without the need for a court case - to stay out of music and pay up something approaching £50,000. To what would probably be to the incredulity of the parties, the lesser-known company would become better known for music than The Beatles' organisation.
8 1979: Beatles versus EMI (Round 1)
Breaking up stopped the musicians but not the lawyers. In the first of five showdowns with EMI, the Fab Four chased the industry giant through the courts in the UK and the US through the 1980s, claiming that they had been routinely ripped off of royalties to the tune of millions of pounds. In 1984, the case reached London's High Court. Mr Justice Gibson ruled that EMI should have paid royalties on at least 85 per cent of net sales. In 1986, he ordered a court-supervised trawl through EMI's royalties records and again found for The Beatles.
7 1989: Beatles versus EMI (Round 2)
Ding Ding. But someone is throwing in the towel: EMI. After a decade of delay and legal argument, EMI settled the case on both sides of the Atlantic with its most famous artists. The resulting payout was "an eight-figure sum". But it was not the end of the wrangles between the musicians and the label, whose roster once featured the Sex Pistols and now includes Robbie Williams and Coldplay.
6 1991: Beatles vs EMI Round 3
A battle over control of The Beatles' back catalogue. The writers of "Paperback Writer" and "Yellow Submarine" issued legal action over EMI's plans to release a double box-set of the compilation, red and blue albums, on CD without their permission. Again, a High Court judge ruled in their favour and insisted they did have artistic control of their output. Pride satisfied, the Beatles agreed to the release.
5 1989: Beatles versus Apple (Round 2)
Worried about Apple Computer's expansion, the Liverpudlians took on the Californians in the courts. In a settlement in 1991, the computer geeks paid out $26m to the musicians. Apple Corps was awarded rights to the name on "creative works whose principal content is music" while Apple Computer was allowed "goods and services... used to reproduce, run, play or otherwise deliver such content". If only they had foreseen the internet...
4 1995: Beatles versus EMI Round 4
With McCartney's effort "Pipes of Peace" still ringing in the public's ears, it was back to M'Learned Friends to sort out another royalty dispute with the record company. Again the two sides settled with EMI digging its hand into its pocket. The result? A rise in the royalty rate and a payment of about $35m.
3 1998: Beatles versus Lingasong Music
In his last public appearance, George Harrison entered the witness box to halt the release of recordings of the band's early live appearances at the Star Club in Hamburg by Lingasong. The record label claimed that John Lennon had given permission for the band's performance in 1962 to be taped. Mr Justice Neuberger said Harrison had convinced him that Lingasong should be forced to stick by an injunction prohibiting it from selling the recording. He ruled that Lingasong would have to hand over the original Hamburg tapes, and pay both sides' costs.
2 2003: Beatles versus Apple Round 3
Apple Computer must have been worried when the musicians sued again. This time, though, the Californians won. The Beatles' Apple, managed by Neil Aspinall, left, complained that Apple had broken the 1991 voluntary agreement by launching iTunes, the world biggest music downloading store. By opening a music shop and showing the apple logo, Apple had overstepped the mark and entered the music business, claimed the other Apple. Justice Edward Mann, an iPod owning judge, ruled that distributing tracks online did not amount to making a musical product. The case could leave the band with a legal bill of between £3m and £5m. But the long and winding road of litigation is not over - the judge granted Apple's request to appeal the case. It has been listed at the Court of Appeal for 27 February 2007.
1 2005/06: The Beatles versus EMI (Round 5)
The Beatles claim EMI have been at it again - denying them royalties. In court papers lodged in London and New York in December 2005, Apple Records claimed that EMI owed McCartney and Starr and the relatives of Harrison and Lennon a whopping $30m. It is seeking backdated payments covering the band's entire output dating back to 1962, when the band signed for EMI's Parlophone label. Apple's tenacious chief executive, Neil Aspinall, said: "We have tried to reach a settlement through good faith negotiations and regret that our efforts have been in vain. Despite very clear provisions in our contracts, EMI persist in ignoring their obligations and duty to account fairly and with transparency." EMI said that there were sometimes "differences of opinion" with artists about what was due "especially when the contracts are large and complex". On 23 August, a US judge threw out an attempt by EMI to ditch part of the charge sheet. Money can't buy you love, but it can buy an excellent lawyer - in this case the music industry expert Nick Valner, of Eversheds.
And the legal case that wasn't... 2002 Yoko Ono versus Paul McCartney
Yoko Ono was said to be unhappy at McCartney's decision to reverse the credit "Lennon-McCartney" on Beatles songs. "It's merely pointing out who did the body of work on certain songs," Macca explained. Ono reportedly considered legal action; no papers were served.
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