2 - How Ringo and George Got Ripped-Off
2 - How Ringo and George Got Ripped-Off
Probably the only thing that ever divided the incredible unity that The Beatles had was the publishing and songwriting royalties which were paid to Lennon and McCartney, but not George and Ringo.
Royalties for song and publishing rights works like this: Every time one of the songs is played on the radio, used in a movie or on TV, or on a recording, a publishing and songwriting fee is paid. The total fee paid for the song is split between songwriter and publisher (i.e., owner). There are also the “recording rights” which are owned by EMI - and of which all four Beatles receive an equal commission for each album sold.
The publishing rights to most Beatle songs were first held by Northern Songs, and then from 1969, the British company, and currently by Sony and Michael Jackson’s estate. When Northern Songs went public in February 1965, McCartney and Lennon had 20% of the shares each. From 1965, all the songwriting royalties and 40% of the publishing royalties were paid only to McCartney and Lennon. George and Ringo received nothing for their part in creating these musical treasures. When Northern Songs went public they received 0.8% each in shares.
George and Ringo lost much more than McCartney-Lennon
The conventional view of Beatle history is that “Lennon-McCartney lost the publishing rights to their own songs due to the deal they made with Northern Songs.” That is just one part of the story.
Lennon complained: ‘There's Northern Songs, Dick James, and NEMS. What did we have? A couple quid in the bank. That's where Brian f***ed up.” McCartney: “Some of the deals he (Epstein) struck, like the fact that Lennon and McCartney songs aren't our copyright, were very naive.”
The fact is that Lennon and McCartney sold their publishing rights on two different occasions. The first time was in 1963 when Northern Songs was established, and then in February 1965 when Northern Songs went public and they were able to sell some of their shares to the public. They each sold their remaining shares in 1969 to ATV for 3.5 million pounds.
To say they “lost the publishing rights” is not accurate. Until this very day they continue to equally share all the songwriting royalties from these songs. Despite their role in turning their written words into classical musical treasures, George and Ringo have never received a dime of these revenue streams that McCartney and Lennon have received over the past 50 years.
Why Lennon-McCartney didn’t treat Ringo and George fairly
Since 1963, Lennon and McCartney have received tens of millions of dollars in revenue from songwriting royalties that should have been split with Ringo and George.
To convince the public that he and Lennon were victims in this story, McCartney wrote in his 1997 autobiography: “John and I didn’t know you could own songs. We thought they just existed in the air. We could not see how it was possible to own them.”
It’s very hard to believe that even as early as February 1963, the two of them didn’t know that a song could be copywrited and protected. But even so, how long would it have taken for Epstein to explain to them that – “yes- you can own songs under a copywrite just like with a book or a play’? Certainly Epstein knew about this basic fact of the business he was in. He could have easily explained to them that if you go into a deal with Dick James and create Northern Songs, you are giving up part of the publishing rights.
Lennon and McCartney found themselves in a world in which the writers of the song were rewarded in this way. Just because – legally - all the future royalties belonged to them, it didn’t mean they couldn’t have been split four ways instead of two. When they already knew they were a huge hit - bigger than they could have ever imagined - they may have stopped for a moment and said to the other two:
In our band- we are equal- wherever the revenue comes from. We wrote them- you played them. We know we aren’t poets- but musicians and that if the recordings weren’t so great- that you two were a part of- nobody would care who wrote the songs. Revenues from our records and performances are split evenly. The songwriter and publishing royalties should be as well."
In Bill Harry’s 2002 The Paul McCartney Encyclopedia, McCartney is quoted as saying: “Whoever I worked with, no matter what the collaboration was, that person, if they did help on the song, should have a portion of the song for helping me.” In the Anthologies interviews McCartney claimed: The Beatles were very democratic- yes, yes-- everyone had an equal vote.
Everyone, that is, but Ringo and George, who created the musical gems that produced the tens of millions of dollars in in songwriting royalties McCartney and Lennon have been paid over the past 50 years.
The only reason McCartney and Lennon’s songwriting royalties are valuable is the way the song was recorded by all four of them. The song - as the world knows it - is the recording of it, and not the words in the lyrics.
Neither George nor Ringo is on record as ever complaining about this. Yet both got cheated by a system that gave rights solely to the person who wrote the words - rather than to those who arranged and performed the music. The writers of songs have such little relevance as to how great music is performed and recorded. Ringo and George’s presence in the studio when these songs were recorded makes them as much a “songwriter” and “owner” of the song as Lennon or McCartney.
Lennon and McCartney knew exactly how that system worked - and never once thought about how unfair it was that they got so much more than the other two. They are morally at fault - and if a claim was filed against them in a civil court, the judge could definitely see how damage was caused to George and Ringo by the “moral failings” of the other two Beatles, by not suggesting an even split of the songwriting royalties.
As in most other chapters of Beatles history, there is a valuable lesson for all of us to learn: the evil of excessive greed.