The Beatles (Not) For Sale. Again!

By  |  Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 12:40 pm

The Long and Winding RoadIt looks all but certain that the longest-running soap opera in digital music will run at least a little longer. The obligatory annual rumors that Apple was about to announce the availability of the Beatles on the iTunes Store have given way to disappointing sound bites from some pretty knowledgeable sources.

Sir Paul McCartney told NME, not very convincingly, that the appearance tomorrow of the Beatles version of the Rock Band game is a satisfactory alternative to Beatles downloads:

We’ve kind of bypassed that [download problems] because now you can do it in ‘Rock Band’,” he said. “I always liked that, when you’re told you can’t do something and suddenly there’s a little route round the back.

Meanwhile EMI’s global catalog president told the Financial Times that the company wants to make the Fab Four’s music available for download–eventually:

“Conversations between Apple and EMI are ongoing and we look forward to the day when we can make the music available digitally. But it’s not tomorrow,” Ernesto Schmitt, EMI’s global catalog  president, told the FT’s Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson.

(In this case, I’m assuming that “not tomorrow” means both “not September 9th, 2009” and “not in the immediate future.”)

The word of Sir Paul and EMI isn’t enough for you? MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka seems to have found a third source with bad news:

The Beatles estate, Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Viacom’s (VIA) MTV will be releasing a new version of “Rock Band” that features the band’s songs tomorrow. And on the same day, EMI Music Group will release all of the band’s music on remastered compact discs.

But that’s it, a source familiar with the band’s plans tells me. For now.

As Kafka says, the theory that Apple would coordinate its announcement with tomorrow’s other Beatles news always seemed a tad unlikely: Why would it want to promote Rock Band, a game that doesn’t run on Apple hardware?

I’m not going to entirely discount the possibility of a surprise tomorrow until the event (which I’ll be liveblogging) ends and Paul McCartney hasn’t emerged from behind the curtain. I’m not sure why I care, since I long ago ripped the music I wanted from CD. Like most Beatles fans who have gone digital. Perhaps the band and EMI wants us to buy the music one last time on CD in these new remastered versions before it gives us the chance to purchase it yet again in downloadable form.

This whole saga is as old as the iTunes Store: It began with the news that the Beatles were suing Apple over iTunes and the lads’ Apple Corps trademark, segued into musings on whether digital Beatles were in the offing after the spat was settled, and in recent years has involved repeated rumors that a deal had already been struck and was about to be announced. After the jump, a recap of the last six years of developments.

Cnet in 2008:


Ars Technica in 2007:

The Beatles

Fortune in 2006:

The Beatles

CNN/Money in 2005:

The Beatles

Cnet in 2004:

The Beatles

Cnet in 2003:

The Beatles

At this point, if this is still going on in 2015 I’d only be slightly surprised…


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Josh Marinacci Says:

    It goes back much further than that. Apple Corps sued Apple back in the early 90s when they first unveiled QuickTime, claiming trademark infringement due to being in the sound generation business.

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    I get the feeling that the hubub about the Beatles on iTunes is kinda like the (once long) wait for Star Wars on DVD. There’s a perception in some quarters that a new medium hasn’t “made it” until the art form’s biggest acts/entertainment properties adopt it. Or at least the news media tends to think so.

    Of course, in both cases mentioned, the “biggest acts” waited so long to come to the mediums that the mediums “made it” without them. If this old saw goes on about the Beatles/iTunes for another year, it will become a joke (if it hasn’t already).

  3. tom b Says:

    The Beatles: now available on WAX CYLINDER!!!

    Seriously, McCartney’s really lost it.

  4. Paul Judd Says:

    McCartney has gone on record and said that the holdup is not with iTunes – in fact he would love to have the content available digitally. If you look, Paul’s solo stuff is already on iTunes. The problem is that ownership of the Beatles music is really complicated and it is not just down to one person to decide things – there are several parties involved. Right now, McCartney blames EMI (one of the rights-holders publishing wide) as the main party thats holding things up.

    It is not Paul McCartney that has “lost it”.

  5. rickycm Says:

    Andie Airfix has worked with Sir Paul and, from what I’ve heard, he’s completely down to earth and well aware of what’s going on. I doubt if he personally is blocking anything. I’m sure there will be other stuff going on.

  6. Austen Says:

    How many out here realize that vinyl is still the longest lasting media for audio? That’s what I’d want, spending big on more recordings. (From time to time I would burn a new CD to protect my vinyl.)

  7. Asymmetrical Communication Says:

    It is such a shame that some of the greatest music ever made still has restrictions after so many years. These great tunes are already available in every single music store in the world, yet they are still strangled by money hungry corporations. MJ is already dead… what next?!

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  9. Colin Hall Says:

    I was just playing the Abbey Road album and thought I’d see what was being written about the Beatles. Personally I think it was a disaster re-issuing the Beatles collection on CD, so the thought of distributing it digitally makes me want to reach … The beatles were made for distribution on record and this will always remain the ‘legitimate’ way to listen, preferably on an old Garrard deck with diamond stylus that scratches the heck out of vinyl ;-)))

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