Michael Jackson's death won't affect any Beatles-iTunes deal

Jackson never stood in the way of the Beatles music going digital, said sources who added that his company, Sony/ATV, welcomed a deal.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

This story was corrected at 9:48 a.m. Details are below.


Michael Jackson's position in long-time efforts to make the much-coveted Beatles catalog available digitally is one of the most misunderstood aspects in the very complicated negotiations.

The sudden death of one of the world's best known entertainers on Thursday will have no impact on whether songs from the Fab Four will finally make it to iTunes and other Web music stores. Rumors aside, no deals are imminent, music sources told CNET News.

Jackson bought ATV Music Publishing, the company that owned the words and music to 250 Beatles songs, nearly 25 years ago. He sold a 50 percent share in the company to Sony in 1995 and together they operated Sony/ATV. The actual recordings of the Beatles playing their songs is owned by EMI, one of the four largest music labels, and Apple Corp., the company that looks after the Beatles' business holdings and rights.

What that means is that if you want to record and release a version of "Help," then you need to compensate Sony/ATV. A filmmaker wishing to add a recording of the Beatles performing the song to a soundtrack must negotiate with EMI and Apple Corp.

In the latter scenario, Sony/ATV would collect a share of that deal and could veto it since the company owns the copyrights to the music and words. That typically doesn't happen, and to be clear: Sony/ATV has never stood in the way of a digital deal for the Beatles catalog, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations. Indeed, the sources said that Jackson and Sony/ATV welcomed it.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Jackson was in financial trouble at the time of his death. Jackson borrowed twice against his Sony/ATV stake, according to the Journal story. How that will affect Jackson's stake in Sony/ATV, which was held in trust, is unclear.

"Jackson was incredibly proud of his association with Sony/ATV Music Publishing and his role in the company," said a company representative. "He was a great partner."

Correction: Michael Jackson borrowed against his stake in Sony/ATV, and how that will impact the company is unclear.