By Christopher Hope - telegraph.co.uk
George Harrison's music publisher is suing a company co-owned by popstar Michael Jackson and Japanese giant Sony, claiming that it owes the late Beatle as much as $1.8m in unpaid royalties from songs he composed for the Fab Four in the Sixties.
The lawsuit has echoes of a landmark case when Elton John and song writing partner Bernie Taupin sued Dick James Music in the 1980s for unpaid royalties. They won up to £5m.
The Beatles in 1965 Most of the Beatles' songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; however a sizeable minority were written by George Harrison, the "quiet" Beatle. The legal action was launched last month at the High Court by Harrisongs, which is wholly-owned by the estate of Mr Harrison and has his widow Olivia Harrison on the board. It is part of a legal tussle which began in the mid-1990s to settle a row over royalties.
The action shows that Harrisongs, which owns the rights to the late Beatle's songs, secretly won $1.77m from the Jackson/Sony joint venture, called Sony/ATV, last November, three years after the former Beatle died. That pay-out, which has never been made public, covered unpaid royalties earned between 1991 and June 1999 on 35 songs composed between 1965 and 1968 by Mr Harrison, tracks such as Within You, Without You which was on the Sergeant Pepper's album.
Harrisongs now wants to be paid for alleged underpayment of royalties from July 1999 to the present, and settle a payment structure until copyright expires in 2081. The dispute centres on a contract signed by Harrison on March 25, 1965 in which he gave Northern Songs the right to collect income from sales of records.
Harrisongs is allegedly entitled to take 80pc of the royalties paid in the UK and 70pc of those collected overseas. However, Harrisongs' claim is that Sony/ATV has not paid back the full royalties on the songs in a number of countries.
Between November 1995 and the end of 1997, Harrisongs claims that it only received a 70pc share of 30pc of the actual royalties paid in more than 17 countries. Harrisongs claims that varying degrees of underpayment on foreign royalties continued after July 1999 until the present day.
Harrisongs resorted to legal action after Sony/ATV allegedly denied Harrisongs permission to examine "relevant books and records relating to the compositions and to royalties, fees and on the sums due to Harrisongs" after July 1, 1999.
Furthermore, the legal action claims that "since July 1999, Harrisongs has only been receiving a 50pc share of such performing and broadcast fees, rather than a 66.67pc share". The other 50pc was allegedly kept by Sony/ATV.
Neither Harrisongs nor Nick Valner, the Eversheds lawyer who signed the writ and is the executor to George Harrison's estate, would comment. Companies House documents show that between 2002 and 2003, gross profits at Harrisongs fell from £2.9m to £2.2m.
A dividend paid to the Harrison family fell by £150,000 to £850,000. A spokesman for Sony/ATV said: "Obviously we have the highest respect for the Harrison estate.
"But Sony/ATV has a policy that we don't comment on any commercial transactions with our writers nor any pending litigation."