The tape of the concert passed through several hands before eventually being acquired by Ace. The company says it entered into a deal with Screenvision Exhibition to show the documentary in 500 theaters nationwide before Sony/ATV and Apple Corps interfered.
Ace says the tape is in the public domain.
The claim says that it was "sold without copyright protection." (Back in the 1960s and '70s, companies appear to have been more lax about copyright notices. This sort of thing has come up in recent disputes from Velvet Underground albums to iconic porn films.)
Even though Ace advertises the film as "lost," it also says the concert has been exploited multiple times before -- without objection.
To distribute the film, the filmmakers needed synchronization licenses to the songs featured in the film. These licenses are required whenever music is matched to visuals.
Negotiations commenced with Sony/ATV, which owns certain publishing rights to Beatles songs after Michael Jackson famously bought them in the 1980s to Paul McCartney's chagrin.
But Apple Corp, which was set up by the original Beatles members and is not to be confused with the iPhone company, was allegedly planning its own use of the footage.
"At the eleventh hour, in mid-April 2012, Sony/ATV, at the insistence of, and in conspiracy with, Apple Corps, wrongfully interfered with the distribution contract by making false statements to exhibitors, theater owners and potential distributors concerning Ace's legal right to exhibit the documentary, making unjustified threats of legal action and filing a baseless lawsuit in England," the lawsuit states.
Ace says that Sony/ATV made the "highly unusual" step of granting exclusive synchronization licenses to Apple Corps. As a result, the distribution deal for The Beatles: The Lost Concert fell through.
Represented by attorney Lee Squitieri, the plaintiff is suing on antitrust grounds, abuse of copyrights, tortious interference and unfair competition. The plaintiff also says that its work was transformative and that the documentary would have made hundreds of millions of dollars.
Sony and Apple Corps haven't commented yet.
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