The Beatles, Michael Jackson

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Now that M.J. is dead, who has the rights to the Beatles songs—and will we be able to buy them on iTunes?

The publishing rights to most of the Beatles' biggest hits are owned by one entity, a joint venture between the late Michael Jackson and the music arm of Sony Corp. It's called Sony/ATV, and it also owns the rights to songs written by Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Taylor Swift and, oh yes, the Jonas Brothers.

But Sony/ATV does not handle the recordings of Beatles songs. Two other companies do that, so whether you'll ever download "Come Together" off of iTunes has nothing to do with M.J.'s death. I'll have more info on that for you later in this story.

As for what happens to Jackson's portion of that legendary publishing catalog, welcome to the big, hot mess that is Jacko's estate...


Well, because Jackson was also, according to reports, mired in some truly epic financial drama. Even the value of Sony/ATV is unclear, with analysts and media placing it somewhere between the rather widely spaced poles of $500 million and $1 billion.

Here's some more math: According to the Wall Street Journal and other reports, Jackson had about $500 million in debt.

Adding to the quagmire: Jackson once put up his share in Sony/ATV as collateral for a loan. The debt is held by Barclays, Jackson's biggest creditor, and the amount owed is said to be around $300 million.

So where does that leave Lovely Rita or Sgt. Pepper or Sweet Loretta? I refuse to say it's going to be a long and winding road. Instead, I shall declare that it's going to be a lengthy and twisting pathway.

"It's all a mess," one executive involved in Jackson's financial affairs told the New York Times this past weekend. "No one really knows what is going on, but these are early days."

Now, Sony/ATV owns 267 songs written mostly by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That collection—which comprises most of the Beatles' hits—continues to make bank; in fact, Sony/ATV recently negotiated a deal to allow some of the songs to be used on a Beatles version of Rock Band.

The actual recordings of all the Beatles songs you know and love are owned by record label EMI and the band's company, Apple Corps. Those two are still trying to figure out terms for introducing Beatles songs to the digital world, including iTunes.

In conclusion, it could very well be years before anyone figures out what exactly Michael Jackson owned, owed and bequeathed—other than a big old tangle of drama.

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