Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium concert is the subject of copyright suit filed on behalf of former promoter

beatles_press_conference_1965

“Beatles Press Conference 1965” by Minnesota Historical Society. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On August 15th, 1965, the incredibly popular British rock band known as the Beatles played an outdoor concert at Shea Stadium, a multipurpose sports venue that used to be located in the New York borough of Queens. The show, which took place in front of 56,000 attendees, was a very important moment in Beatlemania and has spawned no small amount of lore about the frenzy of Beatles fans as well as the band’s shortcomings in live performance.

More than 50 years have passed since the Beatles rocked Shea Stadium, but interest in that historic moment hasn’t waned over time. In late July, media reports indicated that 4K ultra high definition restorations of video recorded during the Shea Stadium show will be included in a new Beatles documentary directed by Ron Howard and which has already been released this September. The Shea Stadium recordings will feature remastered sound, which may help diminish the noise of screaming fans which is all too apparent in recordings which have been released up to now.

The music promoter who booked the Beatles for the Shea Stadium concert was Sid Bernstein, one of the more important producers of the British Invasion era of rock & roll in the 1960s. Besides the Beatles, Bernstein had business relationships with The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits, among others. Bernstein is also considered by many to be the first in the music industry to have performers play concerts in stadiums.

On Monday, September 12th, Sid Bernstein LLC, a company representing Bernstein who passed away in 2013, filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement on the use of the Shea Stadium footage in the recent documentary. The suit charges that Sid Bernstein is the sole owner of the Shea Stadium master tapes by virtue of being a producer of the concert event and the employer for hire of the Beatles. The infringement suit targets both Apple Corps, the multimedia corporation set up by members of the Beatles in 1968 and involved with producing the new documentary, and Subafilms Ltd. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y.).

Individual members of the Beatles have been the target of many copyright infringement allegations, some of which have been successful in obtaining compensation, since they first rose to rock prominence. In the early 1970s, after the Beatles had broken up, John Lennon was targeted by music publisher Morris Levy because of similarities between “Come Together,” written by Lennon, and “You Can’t Catch Me,” a Chuck Berry song recorded in 1956. Lennon tried to avoid a court case by recording songs owned by Morris Levy and when those songs were unauthorizedly released, Lennon countersued and was compensated for lost income. In 1976, George Harrison was brought to an S.D.N.Y. court over claims that Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord” represented copyright infringement of “He’s So Fine,” a song written by Ronald Mack and recorded by the Chiffons in 1963. The court wound up finding that Harrison subconsciously plagiarized Mack’s song.

Comments made by counsel representing Apple Corps and published by Bloomberg indicate that this case might not be as difficult to defend against as those previous cases. Defense counsel will rely heavily on producing an agreement made between Bernstein and the Beatles which barred Bernstein from claiming film rights for the stadium performance.

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