When John Lennon and his bandmate Paul McCartney had started making music, they entered into a contract with Northern Songs to publish their music, all the while giving this music publisher the right to own their songs.This meant that over 250 of the most popular Beatles songs came under the ownership of Northern Songs, and although McCartney and Yoko Ono, the widow of John Lennon, were given multiple opportunities after 1984 to purchase the catalog, they refused as they thought the price being charged for it was too exorbitant.
Around the same time during the 80s, Michael Jackson, who had become extremely popular by that time and, as a result, extremely rich, had developed a keen interest in purchasing song rights. Reportedly, his lawyer got to know that the entire music catalog developed by the Beatles was for sale in the market, and Jackson instructed him to spare no expense in acquiring rights to all of their songs.
Now, Northern Songs was owned by ATV Music Publishing, a bigger music publishing giant that had ownership rights of around 4000 songs in total, and it was the latter that had become available for sale.
It took around a hundred lawyers to check the rights of all the songs owned by the company and, after months of dedicated efforts, a total of eight contracts materialized that closed the deal at $47.5 million. However, Paul and Lennon were still liable to earn 25% each of any proceeds generated from the licensing of their songs.
Apparently, a couple of years before this purchase was made, Michael Jackson had stayed at Paul McCartney’s house while he was recording a song with him in London. It was during this visit that Paul had introduced Jackson to the art of purchasing song rights, bragging that he had earned more than $40 million that same year just from royalties.
Ironically, Jackson had reportedly joked that he would one day own all of the Beatles songs, which was taken very lightly by McCartney at that point in time. Nobody could’ve known that within a span of a few years this would become a reality. Of course, this led to discord between both Jackson and McCartney when the former allowed Nike to use the Beatles’ song Revolution for a mere $500K, but legally Paul could not do anything about it.
A 50/50 merger between ATV and Sony’s catalog company in 1995 earned Michael an instant $95 million, and also a 50% stake in a much larger company. This merged company ended up owning more than 200,000 songs by 2005, and more than 2 million songs by 2013. In 2012 alone, this company made around $1.25 billion from licensing deals, with an impressive net income of $500 million.
The company is currently valued at somewhere around $3 billion, which means Jackson’s share is worth around $1.5 billion: a very impressive figure considering it started from an investment of a mere $47.5 million.