It’s been decades since the British Invasion and believe it or not, the Beatles are still releasing music.  Well, it’s not “new” music but familiar tracks, which had not seen the light of day (although many have been available for years as bootlegs).  These include four extra versions of “She Loves You,” five versions of “A Taste of Honey”, three outtakes of “There’s a Place, ” demos and BBC radio performances.

So, why did they release the music?  The folks at Apple Corps, Ltd. aren’t saying but it’s more likely than not that copyright law is the driving force.  Under current European copyright law, if the Beatles didn’t release the material, Apple Corps would lose their copyrights over the full corpus of the unreleased works.  Here’s why.  In Europe, copyright law secured  rights in published sound recordings for 50 years after the date of release. For many of the early Beatle recordings, that anniversary has passed or is approaching. In November, a new law promulgated by the European Union extended the term for 70 years from the date of original release.  Unreleased music, however, reverts to the public domain after 50 years.   So Apple Corp was compelled to release the music or lose its rights.   Additional measures in the Directive also implemented by the Regulations include:

  • that record producers set aside 20% of all revenues from the sales of sound recordings for a fund for session artists;
  • that if a record label is not commercially releasing a track that is over 50 years old, then the performers can request that the rights in the performance revert to them – a ‘use it or lose it’ clause
  • a ‘clean slate’ provision that prevents the producer from deducting advance payments from royalties after 50 years; and
  • alignment of the term of protection for the music and lyrics in a musical composition.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit this site.

Under U.S. Law the duration of copyright may be even more favorable.  For published recordings made before February 15, 1972, all such recordings will enter the public domain on February 15, 2067, in approximately 53 years.  However, if a record company publishes a previously unpublished recording today, the terms would be 70 years after death of author, or if it is a work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation.  So the result could be even more generous than the duration granted by European copyright law.

As a result of the new European law, we may begin to see is a cycle of new releases of old material by a number of artists for no other purpose than to extend the copyrights in overseas markets.  Recent releases by Bob Dylan appear to confirm this trend.

Adam G. Garson, Esq.