Beatles Shea Stadium Show Takes Spotlight in Copyright Spat

  • Show set up by producer Sid Bernstein was first of its kind
  • Company bearing Bernstein’s name seeks rights to master tape

A half century after Sid Bernstein pitched the idea for the Beatles’ ground-breaking performance at Shea Stadium in 1965, the company bearing the famed music producer’s name needs some help getting the rights to the concert.

Sid Bernstein Presents LLC on Monday sued the entity that holds the rights to the performance’s master tape. That company, London-based Apple Corps Ltd., is owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and the estate of George Harrison, none of whom are strangers to copyright battles.

At the heart of the complaint is the claim that Bernstein, best known as “The Man Who Brought the Beatles to America," was the driving force behind every aspect of the stadium performance and was therefore the rightful owner of the rights to the master tape.

All use of that tape has violated Bernstein’s rights, including a 1967 television movie -- “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” -- that aired nationwide, and a 1995 documentary series “The Beatles Anthology,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit is entirely frivolous, Apple Corps’ New York lawyer Paul Licalsi said in an interview. Bernstein’s agreement with the Beatles at the time explicitly barred him from any filming rights and a copy of the deal will prove it easily, he said.

"Mr. Bernstein never made any claim for the film for nearly 50 years until he died," Licalsi said.

Bernstein died in 2013 at 95. He had reached out to the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, to pitch a U.S. tour, according to the complaint. Bernstein helped get the band booked for their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan television show and then produced their concert at Carnegie Hall, all in 1964.

"Sid had the idea of putting on a performance by the Beatles at Shea Stadium," according to the lawsuit. "No rock group had ever performed in such a large venue."

Helicopter Landing

The music producer promoted the first-of-its-kind event and arranged for the Beatles to land at the Queens stadium in a helicopter, the company claims. All 55,000 seats were sold as a direct result of his efforts, it says.

"Sid told people that he was planning a performance by the Beatles at Shea Stadium and the word spread like wildfire," the company said. "Thousands of envelopes containing money and requests for tickets were sent to Sid’s post office box in New York."

The Beatles performed 12 songs at the Aug. 15 concert, including “Twist and Shout,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”

The case is Sid Bernstein Presents LLC v. Apple Corps Ltd., 1:16-cv-07084, U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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