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'New' Beatles and Bob Dylan releases appear as copyright term debate descends into farce

Tim Ingham
'New' Beatles and Bob Dylan releases appear as copyright term debate descends into farce

The Beatles' classic recording of 1962 single Love Me Do has - debatably - slipped into the public domain in the EU.

That means any record label in the land could theoretically now reissue the track and original B-side P.S. I Love You as a 'new' release without paying performance royalties to the band.

Classical reissue specialist Pristine Classical has already taken advantage: it is now offering a remastered version of Love Me Do as a single track. One word: scamps.

Under traditional EU law, the copyright on recorded music in Europe runs out after 50 years since a track or album was first released.

That's in contrast to the songwriter's publishing copyright, which lasts until 70 years after a composer dies.

To the jubilation of the record industry, Brussels last year agreed to extend the recordings copyright term from 50 to 70 years. Only problem is, that law hasn't yet come into effect - it will be rubber stamped in the UK some time before November.

As such, the owners of Love Me Do's recording copyright for the past 50 years - the band plus label EMI (last year acquired by Universal) - find themselves watching a song they fully owned just weeks ago now being exploited by third parties. 

However, Universal/EMI still fully owns distribution of the song as part of the Beatles' debut LP, Please Please Me and Greatest Hits, 1.

In another twist, the EU Term Extension conditions include a 'use it or lose it' clause for anything recorded before 1963.

That means that if they want to stop pre-1963 recordings slipping into public domain, labels and performers must prove they were still invested in bringing them to new audiences in the decades that followed.

Sony Music has already taken exactly that step for one of its artists whose recordings copyrights are beginning to expire: Bob Dylan.

Sony's very limited, 100-copy release of the 50th Anniversary Collection box set, released late last year,  includes 86 unreleased Dylan tracks dating back to 1962 and 1963 - or, you've guessed it, 50 and 51 years.

"This isn't a scheme to make money," a Sony Music source reassured Rolling Stone. "The copyright law in Europe was recently extended from 50 to 70 years for everything recorded in 1963 and beyond. With everything before that, there's a new 'Use It or Lose It' provision. It basically said, 'If you haven't used the recordings in the first 50 years, you aren't going to get any more."

They added; ""The whole point of copyrighting this stuff is that we intend to do something with it at some point in the future."

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Tags: The Beatles, Love Me Do

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