Thirty-five years ago today, Thursday, July 28th, 1987, The Beatles filed a lawsuit against Nike, their ad agency, and Capitol Records over the use of "Revolution" in commercials.
While the sneaker giant obtained the rights to the song legally, through a $500,000 deal with Michael Jackson, who owned the rights to the song, and EMI-Capitol Records, The Beatles objected to their music being used in a commercial.
Their legal team issued a statement saying, "The Beatles position is that they don’t sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose or anything else. Their position is that they wrote and recorded these songs as artists and not as pitchmen for any product.”
In the lawsuit they charged that Nike “wrongfully traded on the good will and popularity of the Beatles” by using the song.
Capitol-EMI countered, saying the lawsuit was “groundless” because Capitol had licensed the use of the song with the “active support and encouragement of Yoko Ono Lennon, a shareholder and director of Apple.”
At the time, George Harrison said, “If it’s allowed to happen, every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all. It’s one thing when you’re dead, but we’re still around! They don’t have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.”
Paul McCartney added, “The most difficult question is whether you should use songs for commercials. I haven’t made up my mind. Generally, I don’t like it, particularly with the Beatles stuff. When 20 years have passed maybe we’ll move into the realm where it’s okay to do it.”
The commercials, at least four of them, ran throughout 1987 into '88 when Nike decided to discontinue them. Then in November 1989, it was announced that a settlement had been reached.
While many fans of The Beatles didn't like the song being used in the ad, it did help record sales, as well as selling many pairs of Nike.
I found this fascinating article written last November by one of the lawyers who handled this lawsuit. You can read it HERE.
Source: Rolling Stone and Premiere