The case of iTunes and the missing Beatles tracks
59 rare Beatles recordings appeared on iTunes today, before promptly disappearing again. Neil McCormick reports
By Neil McCormick
17 Dec 2013
Apple records, via the Universal Music Group, were widely rumoured to be reluctantly releasing a cache of rare Beatle tracks via iTunes today in order to comply with copyright law. But scour the site for the mythical Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 and they are nowhere to be found.
Early reports suggest that 2 hours and 29 minutes' worth of Beatles archive recordings appeared on iTunes sites in the early hours of Tuesday morning around the world before being taken down shortly afterwards. The staged release seems to have started in Asia, Australia and New Zealand with further reports of appearances in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon. CNN reports that the recordings briefly surfaced at midnight in the UK. None of these iTunes sites currently host the tracks. If fans didn’t download them in that brief and unadvertised window, it is already too late.
Last month, music copyright was extended to 70 years (after lobbying by Cliff Richard on behalf of the music industry). However, unreleased material only has 50 years of copyright protection. So anything recorded by the Beatles (and other artists) in 1963 and not yet in the public domain would automatically lose protection in 2014. By putting these old recordings out, however briefly and obscurely, Apple have now established copyright for the next 70 years. Which is probably about how long you will have to wait to hear them.
This exercise has not been about saving lost gems for future exploitation so much as protecting the Beatles brand. Without this little manoeuvre, a flood of cheap, sub-standard Beatles albums would have soon started appearing, with profits going to any enterprising salesman who could think of a catchy way to market the freely accessible songs. The tracks, already widely bootlegged and owned by real Beatles obsessives, are mainly alternative, lo-fidelity BBC recordings of songs available on the Beatles' At The BBC albums, and alternative takes from early studio sessions (there are three versions of There’s a Place, none substantially different to the version on Please Please Me).
There are only two songs worth hearing among the 59 and they have been so widely bootlegged in the past that they can easily be found on Youtube and other music sites. Bad to Me is a light acoustic demo of a song The Beatles gave to Billy J Kramer. It’s fun to hear it being sung by John Lennon with an innocent zest but it has never been officially released because the only extant copy is an acetate that hisses all the way through. I’m in Love is an even rougher demo of John Lennon playing piano and singing a song The Beatles gave to the Merseybeats. And that’s it.
Now you see me: artwork for the Bootleg Beatles album that was briefly available on iTunes
We can expect more Beatles copyright-busting out-takes to be released every year now in similar catch-it-while-you-can manoeuvres. When The Beatles broke up in 1970, they claimed there was nothing left in the vault. Nothing they wanted people to hear anyway. After decades of posthumous releases, The Beatles' representatives seem determined to stop the bottom of the barrel being completely scraped clean.