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Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Type Limited liability company
Founder(s) Lew Grade
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Key people Michael Jackson
Industry Music
Services Music publishing
Owner(s) The Michael Jackson Family Trust (50%)
Sony (50%)

Sony/ATV Music Publishing is a music publishing company co-owned by The Michael Jackson Family Trust and Sony. The organisation was originally founded as Associated TeleVision (ATV) in 1955 by Lew Grade. In 1957, ATV acquired Pye Records as a wholly-owned subsidiary. At the time, Pye Records was one of the three major record companies in the UK and, along with EMI and Decca Records, accounted for the vast majority of music records sold in the country. ATV Music Publishing was then created to exploit the catalogue of songs written by artists on the Pye Record label, and for the themes to Independent Television Corporation and ATV programmes. Grade established ATV's headquarters alongside those of Pye Records; off of Edgware Road, beside the Marble Arch in central London.

ATV Music Publishing and Pye Records were at the forefront of the British music explosion in the 1960s. The businesses held contracts with several US companies, allowing them to manufacture and distribute records in the UK. ATV Music Publishing and Grade acquired the rights to the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue, Northern Songs, in 1968. The catalogue featured nearly every song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney until The Beatles' split in 1970.

Grade's fortune began to dwindle as the 1980s approached and by the mid-1980s, ATV Music Publishing and Pye Records were both up for sale. The companies were bought by Australian businessman Robert Holmes à Court, who disposed of them quickly and to his great profit. They were sold to Jackson for $47.5 million in 1985. This upset McCartney—who had told Jackson about the importance of owning publishing, and his own plans to purchase The Beatles catalog—who felt Jackson on purpose outbid McCartney.

In 1995, ATV Music Publishing was merged with Sony and renamed Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The company became the third largest music publisher in the world, owning the rights to songs by Elvis Presley, Eminem, Akon, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson. The value of Sony/ATV Music Publishing has varied in reports. Industry experts have estimated the company to be worth as much as $1.5 billion.





Sony/ATV was originally founded as Associated Television (ATV) in the UK in 1955.[1] It was formed by the impresario Lew Grade, of the entrepreneurial Grade family. At this time, Grade had also founded the Independent Television Corporation (ITC), which featured stars such as Patrick McGoohan, Roger Moore, and Tony Curtis.[1] ITC provided programmes to British and international broadcasters. ATV itself was originally one of these broadcasters; the company had been awarded a franchise in the mid-1950s to operate a new commercial television company in the UK. ATV was broadcast to the English Midlands as part of the Independent Television (ITV) network. Business tycoon Louis Benjamin was also involved with Grade, as part of one of the three major record companies in the UK at the time. The company was Pye Records which, along with EMI and Decca Records, accounted for the vast majority of music records sold in the UK.[1] In 1957, ATV acquired Pye Records as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Grade and Benjamin held most of the shares.[1] ATV Music Publishing was then created to exploit the catalogue of songs written by artists on the Pye Record label, and for the themes to ITC and ATV television programmes. The UK rights to some of the rock 'n' roll music from the US were also bought by ATV.[1] Grade established ATV's headquarters alongside those of Pye Records; off Edgware Road, beside the Marble Arch in central London.[2]

Early history

John Lennon and Paul McCartney failed to purchase ATV Music Publishing in the late 1960s

The 1950s and 1960s were a good period for the Grade family and their companies. Their television operation, which held a vast monopoly of advertising revenues, was part of a system described as having a "license to print money" by Roy Thomson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet.[2] Pye Records was at the forefront of the British music explosion in the 1960s. The Searchers, The Kinks, Donovan, The Moody Blues, Mungo Jerry and Petula Clark were some of the artists that Pye Records released music by. The record label also had contracts with a several US companies, allowing them to manufacture and distribute records in the UK. Chess Records was among those, and counted Chuck Berry as one of their top artists.[2] ATV Music and Lew Grade, who had been knighted by this time, acquired the rights to the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue, Northern Songs, in 1968.[3] The catalogue featured every song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney until The Beatles' legal split in 1971. Northern Songs had been co-owned and administered by Brian Epstein and Dick James. Upon Epstein's death in 1967, James, who was approaching retirement, put the company up for sale. Lennon and McCartney, upset that the songs they had written were not theirs legally, attempted to gain ownership of the publishing rights.[3] Their bid to gain control, part of a long and acrimonious fight, failed. The financial clout of Grade, their adversary in the bidding war, ensured that the music written by the two Beatles passed into the control of ATV.[3]

ATV Music Publishing remained a successful organisation in the music industry throughout the 1970s. Len Beadle, the company's chief executive, signed up many songwriters and bought numerous song catalogues. He acquired the songs written by Lieber and Stoller, which included the Elvis Presley hits "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock". The Lieber and Stoller catalogue also contained Little Richard's greatest hits.[4] The catalogue acquisitions, along with the continuing royalties from Lennon and McCartney, ensured that large amounts of money were frequently coming in for ATV Music Publishing. Despite the success of the music publishing organisation, other ventures formed by Grade were not performing as well. Pye Records, which continued to distribute music from artists such as Carl Douglas and Barry White, was failing to bring in large amounts of money.[4] The television arm of ATV lost its government-granted license and their English Midlands franchise was awarded to Central Television, in which Grade had a minority stake. ITC also lost money on the flop movie Raise the Titanic. Grade's fortune diminished as the 1980s approached.[4]


Michael Jackson acquired ATV Music Publishing in 1985 and merged it with Sony a decade later.

By the mid-1980s, ATV Music Publishing and Pye Records were both up for sale. The companies were bought relatively cheaply by Australian businessman Robert Holmes à Court, who asset-stripped them and sacked many long serving employees, before selling them on again.[5][6][7] During this time, American singer Michael Jackson was recording "Say Say Say" for Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace album. Jackson stayed at the home of McCartney and his wife Linda during the recording sessions, becoming friendly with both. One evening whilst at the dining table, McCartney brought out a booklet displaying all the songs to which he owned the publishing rights.[8] He explained that music publishing was a way to make big money. Jackson replied by telling McCartney that he would buy The Beatles' songs one day. "Great. Good joke", McCartney laughed.[8]

Shortly afterward, John Branca, Jackson's attorney, advised the singer that the Northern Songs catalogue was up for sale. Warned of the competition he would face in buying such popular songs, Jackson remained resolute in his decision to purchase them.[9] Branca approached McCartney's attorney to query whether the Beatle was planning to bid. The attorney stated he wasn't; it was "too pricey".[9] McCartney had previously attempted to purchase Northern Songs alongside John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono in 1981 for $20 million; the pair would each pay $10 million. Ono refused as she thought it was too high a price. Not wanting to spend the $20 million himself, McCartney let the sale fall through.[9] After months of negotiating, Branca closed the deal and purchased Northern Songs on Jackson's behalf for $47.5 million.[9]

In an analysis of the acquisition, Los Angeles Times noted that if "Yesterday" were to earn $100,000 a year in royalties, the Lennon estate and McCartney would divide 50% of the income; $25,000 each. The publisher, Jackson, would receive the other 50%; $50,000. It was added that "Yesterday" in particular would earn considerably more than $100,000 a year. The publisher would also control the use of the song in films, commercials and stage productions.[9] Jackson went on to use the Beatles' songs in numerous commercials, feeling that it would enable a new generation of fans to enjoy the music. McCartney, who himself had used the Buddy Holly song catalogue in commercials, felt saddened.[9] Privately, Jackson was reported to have expressed exasperation at McCartney's attitude; he felt that the musician should have paid for the songs he had written.[9] At the time, McCartney was one of the richest entertainers in the world, with a net worth of $560 million and a royalty income of $41 million.[9] Jackson stated, "If he didn't want to invest $47.5 million in his own songs, then he shouldn't come crying to me now".[9]

Ono was pleased that Jackson had acquired Northern Songs and called it a "blessing".[9] Speaking in November, 1990, Ono stated, "Businessmen who aren't artists themselves wouldn't have the consideration Michael has. He loves the songs. He's very caring."[9] She added that if she and McCartney were to own the songs, there would certainly be arguments. Ono explained that neither she or McCartney needed that. "If Paul got the songs, people would have said, 'Paul finally got John'. And if I got them, they'd say, 'Oh, the dragon lady strikes again'".[9]


The merging of ATV with Sony establishes our commitment to create one of the largest music publishing ventures in the world. We have been working on this for over a year and, now, with the two of us together, the sky is our only limit.

Michael Jackson, 1995.[10]

After Jackson's acquisition of ATV Music Publishing, his record label, CBS, were negotiating the sale of their record division in an unrelated deal. Following hurriedly arranged meetings and disagreements over the selling price, a deal was sealed by Jackson during a concert in Tokyo.[11] Upon seeing the success of this sale, Japanese corporation Sony sought to break away from its core business of hardware manufacturing and diversify into music, films and games. Looking for further opportunities, the company aimed to expand its music publishing interests. The Japanese corporation offered Jackson $90 million for 50% of ATV Music Publishing in 1995.[11][12] Jackson gladly accepted; he had essentially acquired half ownership of the Beatles' songs for a large profit.[11] Jackson's own songs were not included in the deal.[10] Having been merged, the company was renamed Sony/ATV Music Publishing and became the third largest music publisher in the world.[11] Michael P. Schulhof, President and CEO of Sony, welcomed the merger and praised Jackson for his efforts in the venture. "Michael Jackson is not only the most successful entertainer in history; he is also an astute businessman. Michael understands the importance of copyrights and the role they play in the introduction to new technologies."[10] He added that Jackson recognises Sony's "leadership in developing and realizing new technologies that serve to expand the creative horizon of artists such as himself".[10] Administrative expertise was provided by Sony, who installed Paul Russell as chairman. Jackson was a company director and attended board meetings regularly.[11] As each party in the arrangement held the power of veto, both sides would have to agree on a decision before it could be made. If neither party agreed on a decisions, they would not be implemented.[11]

Recent history

Timeline of Sony/ATV Music Publishing
1955 Lew Grade founds Associated Television (ATV).
1957 ATV acquires Pye Records as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
1957 ATV Music Publishing is created to exploit the songs owned by ATV.
1968 ATV Music and Lew Grade acquire the rights to the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue, Northern Songs.
1985 ATV Music Publishing and Pye Records are put up for sale. They are bought Robert Holmes à Court.
1985 ATV Music Publishing and it's assets, Pye Records and Northern Songs, are again put up for sale. Singer Michael Jackson acquires them for $47.5 million.
1995 Jackson merges ATV Music Publishing with Sony. He earns $90 million in the venture.
May 2001 Jackson declares that the Beatles' songs "will never be for sale".
November 2001 Sony/ATV Music Publishing acquires Tony Martin's Baby Mae Music catalogue of 600 songs.
July 2002 Sony/ATV Music Publishing buy country music publisher Acuff-Rose for $157 million. The venture includes publishing rights to 55,000 songs.
2007 Sony/ATV Music Publishing acquires Famous Music, a music publishing business with song catalogue of more than 125,000 songs.

In May 2001, Jackson denied rumours that he was planning to sell the Beatles' song catalogue. Rumours had circulated that the singer was to sell them in order to finance the upkeep of Neverland Ranch and to cover legal bill expenses.[13] The singer announced in a statement, "I want to clarify a silly rumour - the Beatles catalogue is not for sale, has not been for sale and will never be for sale."[13] Sony/ATV Music Publishing continued to acquire song catalogues in the 21st century. In November 2001, the company signed country singer Tony Martin to an exclusive songwriting and co-publishing deal. Through the deal, they acquired Martin's Baby Mae Music catalog of 600 songs, which includes Joe Diffie's "Third Rock from the Sun" and Jeff Carson's "Not on Your Love".[14] In July 2002, Sony/ATV Music Publishing bought veteran country music publisher Acuff-Rose for $157 million. The venture included music publishing rights to 55,000 country music songs, including the music of Hank Williams, The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison[15][16] as well as the master recordings of the defunct label Hickory Records. Sony/ATV revived Hickory Records as the in house record label imprint in 2007, with distribution handled by Sony Music's RED Distribution.[17] Sony/ATV also owns the masters of Dial Records, Four Star Records and Challenge Records.[18]

Digital sheet music provider announced in June 2006 that they had signed a long-term distribution agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. would produce and sell digital sheet music and guitar tablature for songs from Sony/ATV's extensive catalog.[19] "As a music publisher, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to promote our songs and songwriters", Sony/ATV chairman and chief executive David Hockman announced in a statement.[19] Another company acquisition was made in 2007, when Famous Music, a music publishing business with song catalogue of more than 125,000 songs including "Moon River" and "Footloose", was sold to Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The deal, sought by Viacom, included the assumption of around $30 million of debt. The company purchased the business for $370 million. The song catalogue also includes the hits of Eminem, Akon, Linda Perry, Bjork, Shakira and Beck.[20][21]

Following Jackson's death in June 2009, it was revealed that Sony/ATV Music Publishing would keep control of the Beatles' songs.[22] Upon his death, Jackson's entertainment attorney, Joel Katz, commented on the singer's work as a businessman. "Michael Jackson was a perfectionist and his business affairs are worldwide. Many of them are quite ongoing and will be dealt with appropriately."[22] Ivan Thornton, a private-wealth adviser who worked with Jackson and his family, also commended the business side of the musician. "His business mind was fascinating. We’d go to meetings with bankers and Wall Street people and once I explained the language to him, he totally got it. There was no formal education there, but his natural knack was off the charts."[22]


The value of Sony/ATV Music Publishing has varied in reports. In 2002, Forbes magazine estimated Jackson's 50% stake in the company, along with other music publishing ventures, to be worth $450 million.[23] The organisation was valued at $700 million in 2003.[24] Industry experts valued the catalogue at between $600 million and $1 billion in 2004, based on the sales of rival catalogues.[25] Charles Koppelman, a veteran music industry executive, stated that $1 billion was more reflective of Sony/ATV Music Publishing's worth.[25] "Buyers would be lining up around the block if it were ever put up for sale", he said. "And I'd be in the front of the line."[25] The value of the company was further estimated by Ryan Schinman, chief of Platinum Rye, to be $1.5 billion[26]

In 2005, Jackson's defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau, revealed that the song catalogue had been valued at between $4 billion and $5 billion.[27] The company's song catalogue is believed to generate up to $80 million a year; The Beatles' hits alone bring in $30 million to $45 million a year.[25] Jackson's other publishing firm, Mijac, which publishes songs written by Jackson himself, is valued to be worth at least $75 million.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Guest (2006) pp4–5
  2. ^ a b c Guest (2006) p7
  3. ^ a b c Guest (2006) p8
  4. ^ a b c Guest (2006) p9
  5. ^ Kraar, Louis (19 August 1985). "Robert Holmes a Court spends a lot of time in his Perth study, pondering computer chess moves and takeover strategy. He's made a fortune buying corporate dogs.". Fortune. Retrieved 2009-06-13. "Lord Lew Grade, chairman of Associated Communications Corp., one of Britain's largest entertainment conglomerates, welcomed Holmes a Court into his tent several years back. Before the British impresario knew what hit him, Holmes a Court owned the company and Lord Grade was looking for a job." 
  6. ^ Faith, Nicholas (14 December 1998). "Obituary: Lord Grade". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-06-13. "Robert Holmes a Court, the Australian financier, took advantage of ACC's parlous position by buying the company relatively cheaply and as soon as he took control started sacking long-serving employees (including Grade's favourite tea lady). In a spiteful gesture after easing Grade out of ACC he removed Grade's credits from two highly successful films he had financed before losing control" 
  7. ^ Guest (2006) pp10–11
  8. ^ a b Taraborrelli (2004) p333–334
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Taraborrelli (2004) p335–338
  10. ^ a b c d "Michael Jackson and Sony enter joint publishing venture valued at $600 million". Jet. (November 27, 1995). Retrieved April 6, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Guest (2006) pp12–13
  12. ^ Taraborrelli (2004) p617
  13. ^ a b "Jackson 'will not sell' Beatles songs". BBC. (May 10, 2001). Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Sony/ATV Music Publishing signs Tony Martin". Nashville Business Journal. (November 20, 2001). Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Jackson made Exeter FC director". BBC. (July 3, 2002). Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  16. ^ "In Brief: Clinic, Alanis". Rolling Stone. (July 2, 2002). Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Hot New Releases From Sony/ATV’s Hickory Records". Sony/ATV News. May 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b "Sony/ATV songs to be available in digital sheet music". Los Angeles Business Journal. (June 23, 2006). Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  20. ^ "Viacom sells Famous Music to Sony/ATV". USA Today. (May 30, 2007). Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  21. ^ Swash, Rosie (May 31, 2007). "Jackson buys Eminem rights". The Guardian. Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  22. ^ a b c Fixmer, Andy (June 27, 2009). "Sony-Jackson Partnership Said to Plan on Keeping Beatles Rights". Bloomberg L.P.. Retrieved June 28, 2009. 
  23. ^ Pulley, Brett (December 8, 2002). "Who's The Unfairest Of Them All?". Forbes. Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  24. ^ Gundersen, Edna (November 25, 2003). "For Jackson, scandal could spell financial ruin". USA Today. Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  25. ^ a b c d Gary, Strauss (April 27, 2004). "Jackson's finances are solid, adviser says". USA Today. Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  26. ^ Zack O'Malley Greenburg (June 26, 2009). "Michael Jackson's Estate Sale". Forbes. Retrieved June 27, 2009. 
  27. ^ "Witness: Jacko Lived Way Above Means". Fox News. May 3, 2005.,2933,155356,00.html. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  28. ^ Chawkins, Steve (March 12, 2005). "Michael Jackson may be near bankruptcy". Los Angeles Times.,1,3519629.story. Retrieved April 4, 2009. 


  • Guest, Lynton (2006). The Trials of Michael Jackson. Aureus Publishing. ISBN 1899750401. 
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2004). The Magic and the Madness. Terra Alta, WV: Headline. ISBN 0-3.... 

External links


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