Beatles' First Single Enters Public Domain -- In Europe

from the when-I'm-64 dept

The Beatles remain the iconic pop group, so news on VVN/Music that their very first single has now entered the public domain is something of a landmark moment in music:

The Beatles first single, Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You, has entered the public domain in Europe and small labels are already taking advantage of the situation.

The European copyright laws grant ownership of a recorded track for fifty years, which Love Me Do just passed. That means that, starting January 1 of 2013, anyone who wants to put out the track is free to do so.
Unfortunately, if you're in the US, you'll probably have to wait until 2049 or so. And things are about to get worse in Europe too. As Techdirt reported, back in 2011 the European Union agreed to increase the copyright term for sound recordings by 20 years, despite the absence of any economic justification for this theft from the public domain (yes, this is theft, because it's taking something away that people had.)

Once the relevant legislation is passed around Europe, that means that most of the later Beatles singles -- and many other famous pop music hits from the 1960s -- won't be in the public domain there until the 2030s, rather than in the next few years. It's not yet clear whether the new 70-year term will be applied retroactively to works that have already entered the public domain, so Europeans may want to enjoy their right to distribute free copies of "Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You" recordings legally while they can....

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Filed Under: copyright, europe, public domain, the beatles


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  1. icon
    Duke (profile), 15 Jan 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Not in the Public Domain yet...

    I'm no expert, but I'm pretty certain that no Beatles' songs will be in the public domain for quite a while; while the copyright in the recordings expires 50 years from the end of the year in which they were first made (or from when they were first published if published during that period), copyright in the underling songs (the lyrics as literary works, and tunes as musical works) lasts for until 70 years from the end of the year in which the last author died.

    That means even the songs written just by John Lennon won't enter the public domain until 2051.

    Of course, the key difference between the types of copyright is that the copyright in the sound recording automatically goes to the publisher (i.e. the record label) whereas ownership of the copyright in the songs is a bit more complex. It may be that these other record labels have managed to obtain licences from the appropriate copyright owner, and it is just the original record labels kicking up a fuss.

    As for the details of how the copyright extension is going to be implemented (whether retroactively or not), the UK's IPO is consulting on this at the moment. As far as I can tell (from skimming the document) sound recordings already out of copyright won't go back into copyright, but some literary and musical works will (due to new rules on where the music and words for a song are written by different people, whereby the copyrights are sort of joined so if one author dies first, the copyright in her part continues until 70 years from the end of the year in which the other author dies).

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