Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly

The Beatles and the law

David Foxton *

This article looks at the complex web of litigation which followed the break-up of The Beatles in 1970, and its manifestations in litigation, satire and song. The intensity of that litigation reflected the inevitable acrimony which followed the group’s dissolution, the progressive increase in the commercial value of The Beatles’ brand and output over the subsequent decades, and technological advances in the manner in which music is accessed and monetarised. In addition to its financial consequences, the hard-fought nature of much of the litigation led to important developments in procedural law.


It is my great pleasure this evening to be speaking to you about two of the great passions of my life. Those who live and work in this city will need no reminding of the incredible musical, cultural and social phenomenon which 1960s’ Liverpool spawned. However, I hope you will not mind my beginning with a recent personal experience of the Beatles’ enduring global legacy. This is a picture my elder daughter, sent to me at the start of her summer holiday, posing with concrete facsimiles of the Fab Four in somewhere called “Beatles Square”. The “Beatles Square” in question is in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. I am not sure why Paul is shown separately from the others. Perhaps they still subscribe to the late-1960s “Paul is dead” conspiracy there. Or are depicting the fall-out over Allen Klein’s management—of which more later.
When preparing this talk, I asked my friend Paul McGrath KC whether he had any advice for someone speaking to a Liverpool audience for the first time. He told me to remain strictly neutral between the Red and Blue halves of the city. Now, Paul’s advice 
is almost invariably to be followed, but I have decided to risk not doing so on this occasion. While both have great merit, the superior quality of the Blue is undeniable. 
The Beatles/1967–70 will always have the edge over The Beatles/1962–1966.
To paraphrase Philip Larkin’s Annus Mirabilis, Beatles litigation began in 1963,1 after the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP. But, while the golden age of Beatles music ended with the release of Let it Be on 8 May 1970, the golden age of Beatles’ litigation was just beginning, and all of the cases which feature in this talk post-date the day when the music died. And it’s time to start the musical history tour which is waiting to take us away with the first of those cases, the law suit commenced by Paul McCartney in 1970, which is often treated as marking the formal break-up of the band.


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