Business Copyright

Lawyers Keep the New Beatles Album Out of the Public Domain

Beatles and Copyright
Beatles having fun in Sweden 1963

The Beatles “Bootleg Recordings 1963” was recently released on iTunes and Beatles fans around the world rejoiced. But that joy was tempered by the fact that this new album hit ITunes at a whopping $39.99.  The sad part is that the album should have been free if it were not for the legal wrangling of a few unnamed lawyers at Apple Records.

In 1963, the Beatles released their first two studio albums, Please Please Me and With the Beatles (released in the U.S. as Meet the Beatles)and a series of radio session for the BBC.  They also toured the U.K., Scotland and Sweden.  Live performances from the tours and alternate takes from the studio session were recorded but never released.

Copyright is the exclusive right to copy, distribute, perform, display or make derivatives of an artistic work.

All of the recordings had copyright protection which were set to expire after 50 years.  However, a recent directive extended copyright protection for sound recordings that were published or made available to the public, from 50 years from creation to 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. The problem for Apple Records, owner of the bootleg works, was that the recordings were never published, so could not gain benefit of the extension. These recording should have lost copyright protection in 2014 and entered the public domain, at which time anybody could have used the material in any way they wanted.  To protect the Beatles brand and take advantage of the copyright extension, Apple Records deployed an interesting tactic.

To get around this “publishing” problem, the recordings were made available to the public “for just over 2 hours in a staged succession of countries before doing a disappearing act.”[1] Those two hours were enough to give the Beatles Bootleg Recordings the copyright extension, and a $39.99 price tag. So now we’ll all have to wait until somewhere around 2090 to get this album for free.


About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at [email protected] His photography can be seen online at Fotofilosophy.com or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.

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