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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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    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, so one could argue that this was an unexpectedly good result.

     

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  2.  
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    jameshogg (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:26pm

    "No comment" ?

    Why are they so afraid of saying that copyright is the motivation? Are they not proud of it?

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

    make lobbying and acceptance of lobbying money illegal and let the world start to enjoy properly, like they should be able to, all the things that selfish, egotistic arse holes in the entertainment industries keep from us through the extensions they keep bribing politicians to get and DO GET!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:40pm

    But we need that extra 20 years of copyright! Because otherwise we'll just sit on our creative work and horde it for half a century without releasing it to the public. It takes us half a century to get around to selling it to the public.

     

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  5.  
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    Duke (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:57pm

    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.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymouse Coward (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:01pm

    Re: In all fairness

    I'll wait until I see the prices they charge for works that are 50 years old at the time of release before I would argue that it was a good result and that the public are better off for the release.

     

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  7.  
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    Alana (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:10pm

    Re: In all fairness

    No, this would be a good result in SPITE of copyright law's intended purposes.

     

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  8.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:13pm

    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?

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:14pm

    i agree with you but good luck getting that to happen seriously you'd be taking away like the no.1 method these degenerates use to seize control, we can't have that happen

     

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  10.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:15pm

    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.

     

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  11.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:17pm

    Re:

    The only way to make that happen is... lobbying.

     

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  12.  
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    The Wanderer (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: Not an extra 20 years...

    I would expect "played in public" to cover songs played in concert but never released as recordings, and "communicated to the public" to cover things aired over the radio but never performed in concert or released as recordings.

     

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  13.  
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    Duke (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Not an extra 20 years...

    The subsection continues:
    ...but in determining whether a sound recording has been published, played in public or communicated to the public, no account shall be taken of any unauthorised act.
    So they've got you situation covered.

     

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  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:50pm

    Re: Re: In all fairness

    That's a much better way of saying it, yes.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Fentex, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 2:54pm

    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.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 3:13pm

    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.

     

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  17.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    Re:

    I can honestly say that, as much as I loved the Beatles in my younger days, I had long ago heard every song they've ever done so many times that I'm fine if I never hear one again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 3:54pm

    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!

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 4:43pm

    Nah, the real reason is because they can now go ahead and sue anyone who's ever downloaded a bootleg track. "Serves you right for not waiting several decades for it to be legally available!"

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:27pm

    "The only reason why they are doing this is to retain the copyright of this material"

    lol

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:35pm

    Re: In all fairness

    "On Tuesday Apple [Records] will release the downloads of Beatles recordings which have long been bootlegged but never been made legally available."

    Does not being "long bootlegged" equate to "seeing the light of day"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 11:59pm

    Re: Re: In all fairness

    Not legally, but some of those songs haven't been on Youtube, thus they didn't exist until Apple Records stole them for £20 from those who recorded them.

     

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  23.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 12:51am

    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.

     

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  24.  
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    Ninja (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 1:05am

    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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  25.  
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    Duke (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 5:24am

    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.

     

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  26.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 8:26am

    Re: In all fairness...

    ...had there been no copyright laws (.) or at the original terms if you prefer, these songs would have been out a long time ago to hopefully improve their revenues, while they were alive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re: In all fairness...

    some of them are still alive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2013 @ 11:47am

    Re:

    Several sources indicate that Beatles music as both singles and albums, digital and physical, continue to sell to the tune of millions of dollars per year. While the sales volume is certainly less than when they were first released, new fans "discover" the Beatles every year.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Dec 17th, 2013 @ 11:14pm

    Re: Re: In all fairness

    Precisely.

    The black death ended feudalism and paved the way for the Reformation and Enlighenment. But nobody would call 100 million deaths a "good result".

    Yes, I just compared copyright maximalism to the black death. Deal with it.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Dec 17th, 2013 @ 11:20pm

    So... a bunch of old BBC recordings and outtakes of songs we already know, and no sign of Carnival of Light. Figures.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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