Sony Will Buy Out Michael Jackson’s Half of Sony/ATV Publishing, Take Sole Ownership of His Beatles Catalogue

That early investment really paid well for MJ. Photo: Dave Hogan/Getty Images

For more than two decades, the world's largest music-publishing catalogue was split down the middle in ownership between Sony and Michael Jackson. But as of this month, that power structure will undergo a drastic change: Sony has agreed to buy out the Michael Jackson estate's half of Sony/ATV Music Publishing for $750 million.

In one of the most notorious deals in music history, Jackson famously purchased ATV Publishing for more than $41.5 million in 1985 — outbidding his friend Paul McCartney to acquire a significant amount of the Beatles publishing catalogue — and sold half of ATV's shares to Sony a decade later to form Sony/ATV. But when Jackson died, in 2009, he reportedly left his estate more than $500 million in debt (which the estate has largely resolved thanks in part to posthumous success). Last September, reports circulated that one side was looking to buy out the other after Sony initiated a clause in the contract that would allow such a deal, though it was unclear at the time who was buying whom. (Both sides were rumored to be interested in selling their stake.) It now appears that the Jackson estate, in a bid to free up its debt, has agreed to Sony's lucrative buyout. 

The deal, which is expected to be closed later this year or early in 2017 following regulatory approval, will put Sony in sole ownership of the largest music-publishing catalogue in the world. It includes not only the rights to Beatles songs, but publishing for more than two million songs — including those by Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Beyoncé, and dozens of other big names — and is estimated to be worth in the billions.

Although it might seem like Sony got the upper hand in this deal, at least in the long term, Jackson's estate scored big, too: As part of the buyout, Jackson's estate will get to keep his publishing and masters, retaining a ten-percent stake in EMI Music Publishing and Mijac Music. And Jackson's three kids, Prince, Paris, and Blanket, will inherit whatever's left of the $750 million, post-debt payments, which is set to be put in a trust fund with their names on it. Cha-ching!