59 Bootleg Beatles Tracks Released Officially — For All The Wrong Reasons

from the perverse-incentives dept

Back in January, Sony released the ‘Bob Dylan Copyright Collection Volume’. As its name shamelessly proclaims, that was purely to take advantage of an EU law to extend the copyright term on recordings from 50 to 70 years there. Copyright is supposed to offer an incentive to create new works, so extending it after they are written is clearly nonsensical. Similarly, the idea that musicians will suddenly be inspired to write more new songs because of the extra 20 years of protection that only kicks in 50 years from when the song is recorded is just silly.

Needless to say, Bob Dylan is not the only artist with tracks hidden away in the vaults of recording companies. Here’s another rather high-profile example:

On Tuesday Apple [Records] will release the downloads of Beatles recordings which have long been bootlegged but never been made legally available. They include outtakes, demos and live BBC radio performances. A spokeswoman for Apple would only confirm that the 59 tracks are being released. As to the company’s motivation: “No comment.” Is it because of the copyright laws? “No comment.”

One reason for that, says Beatles blogger Roger Stormo, is that the record company does not really want to release the material in the first place — its hand is being forced. “The only reason why they are doing this is to retain the copyright of this material,” he said.

As that makes clear, this previously unreleased material is not coming out because Apple Records is keen to serve avid Beatles fans around the world; it’s not even to provide legal versions of tracks that have been bootlegged for years. It’s simply so as to be able to assert control over some recordings of the Beatles’s music for another 20 years.

Even though the Guardian article quoted above fails to comment on the fact, this is pretty outrageous. When the Beatles recorded the tracks, they made an implicit deal with the public. In return for a government-backed monopoly lasting 50 years, they would allow their music to enter the public domain at the end of that time. And yet, what has happened? Instead of being able to enjoy and use the tracks as part of the public domain, Europeans have been cheated, and told they must wait another 20 years, simply because the recording industry employed good lobbyists.

What’s particularly galling is that the tracks weren’t even available beforehand, and so presumably weren’t earning any money for Apple Records; in other words, releasing them into the public domain would have resulted in no loss of revenue whatsoever. And yet the recording industry’s obsession with control meant that Apple Records decided to punish the Beatles’ fans anyway by extending the copyright on material it didn’t want released.

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Comments on “59 Bootleg Beatles Tracks Released Officially — For All The Wrong Reasons”

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jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: In all fairness

Except it’s work that anyone could legally release once the copyright expired next year, so it would have seen the light of day and probably have been free, which is an even better result.

Basically, all they want to do is make sure they can make money on some seriously old recordings that they were never interested in releasing to begin with, and do so for another 20 (70?) years, so that’s an unexpectedly bad result.

The fact that this is legal is pathetic.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: In all fairness

“This is work that would never have seen the light of day if it weren’t for the change in copyright law”

Incorrect. The works have apparently “long been bootlegged”, so they’ve seen the light of day. They just haven’t done so legally. Keeping the old law would have ensured that they’d be legally released, whether or not Apple wanted to do it themselves. Now, you can argue that Apple might not have wanted to release a higher quality official release, but the work being in the public domain doesn’t block this.

Instead we have this change in the law, which not only rewards corporate interests but does so at the expense of other artists and music – the “losers” of the time whose works now languish as unreleasable or orphaned works – because a few people who already made millions want a little more.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re: In all fairness

They’re not releasing them now because of the change in the law. The change means that they now get 70 years of bonus copyright from releasing them now, instead of 50.

I think this may have been rushed because the record labels were expecting the 50->70 change to also affect how long they have to first publish the works, but that time didn’t get extended. If it had, these wouldn’t have been released for another 20 years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem is that it is far deeper than that. Politicians with interests in certain fields will want information. On copyright a large majority of the documents are sponsored by copyright holders and written to protect their “investment”.

Add to that the “special interest” in an economic area being seen as essential sides in negotiations on the laws governing their future, the fight is lost before it starts since nobody can be said to truely represent an economically losing side when copyright is extended…

The conflicting economic interests is the most important pillar in modern politics and frankly in civil court. Western political systems simply cannot handle these situations. If politicians would be consistent they would either make copyright eternal or remove it completely. The eternal side will be winning in the long run given the economic interests. It is only a question of how long it takes to reach that point. When that happens, say hello to copyrights as companies on Wall Street!

Duke (profile) says:

Not an extra 20 years...

It’s an extra 70 years, not 20. The current law (at least, in the UK) says:

… copyright [in a sound recording] expires?

(a) at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made, or

(b) if during that period the recording is published, 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first published, or

(c) if during that period the recording is not published but is made available to the public by being played in public or communicated to the public, 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first so made available,

[changes in bold; they were 50.]

Sound recordings come out of copyright 50 years from the end of the year in which they were recorded unless they are published or performed in public, in which case copyright expires at the end of 70 years from the year in which that happens.

So if these works weren’t released by January, they would go into the public domain then (the underlying songs wouldn’t, though, just the sound recordings). However, by releasing them before January, copyright won’t expire until 2084. Assuming the law doesn’t change.

Which, of course, means that in order to maximise copyright duration, publishers are encouraged not to release works for 49 years.

Previously artists would retain copyright for 50 years after a song was released.

Hah; silly author of the article, thinking that the copyright in a sound recording goes to the artist… it defaults to the producer or their employer; the record label. By default the artist gets nothing from this for 50 years.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Not an extra 20 years...

One question: What does this exactly mean?
“s made available to the public by being played in public or communicated to the public,”

A common sense understanding of a phrase like that would be someone (illegally) downloading a track before it’s official publication date and blasting it on speakers for the entire street to hear. Or is there a legalese definition of played to the public/communicated to the public that only includes the song publisher?

Fentex says:

Copyright is supposed to offer an incentive to create new works

The U.S Constitution may say that, but this EU law isn’t written under it’s auspices – EU copyright law may very well be written to protect theoretical ownership the U.S Constitution doesn’t acknowledge.

I agree that it’s a bad law, but arguments against it predicated on the U.S Constitutions comments on Copyright do not apply.

Anonymous Coward says:

This recordings have been held so long outside the public availability that they have nearly lost their commercial value. Is anyone actually today buying The Beatles recordings other than the few, rare, diehard fans? It may have a spurt sales for them but after that, the sales will be over. Nothing has benefited the public in this matter and it is doubtful it will benefit the Apple label much either. The time to cash in has long past.

Ninja (profile) says:

If copyright is not promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries and instead being used to lock stuff away then shouldn’t these rights be revoked? Although of course this is not the US we are talking about but generally isn’t this the goal of copyright?

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