The release of a new album featuring previously unheard Beatles material would normally be heralded as a global music event.
But an official “bootleg” Beatles album, to be slipped out under the radar next week, has been compiled merely to prevent the band’s recordings falling foul of an EU copyright loophole.
Christmas will come early for Beatles collectors when Universal Music releases The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963. The iTunes only album, available from Tuesday, features 59 previously unissued recordings including studio outtakes and performances recorded for the BBC.
The album includes tracks of historical interest to Beatles completists. There are informal demonstration recordings of two songs the group gave to other artists - Paul McCartney and John Lennon's acoustic guitar duet version of Bad to Me and a Lennon piano demo of I’m in Love.
The “bootleg” album is no Sgt. Pepper. Nor is it even likely to match the appeal of the Live At The BBC CDs which feature the pick of the performances recorded for the same sessions mined for the new album.
Yet the Beatles have been forced to release the material to avoid their early recordings falling into the public domain. EU copyright protection on sound recordings has been extended from 50 to 70 years, preserving the key works of the early “beat group”-era.
But the protection does not extend to 50 year-old recordings which have never been released and are simply gathering dust in the vaults.
The “use it or lose it” provision means record companies now must find a limited release for those songs, often studio outtakes neglected for quality reasons, before the 50 year term is up.
If they do not, any individual who gained access to the tapes could legally press up and sell their own Beatles recordings.
The Beatles album features 44 recordings from the 275 performances the prolific band recorded for the BBC. They are track which have not made the cut for the Live at the BBC and On Air - Live at the BBC, Vol. 2 albums.
Bob Dylan is also seeking to protect his unreleased recordings from falling out of copyright. Sony has quietly released The 50th Anniversary Collection: 1963, a compilation of concerts, radio and television appearances and studio outtakes.
Dylan, no stranger to official “bootleg” releases, has approved a limited edition of just 100 copies of the new album, which is spread over six vinyl LPs. Copies of a similar highly-restricted Dylan release last year, covering his 1962 recordings, immediately began changing hands on eBay for $1,000.
The 1963 Dylan collection includes outtakes from The Times They Are a-Changin' album as well as appearances at Carnegie Hall and a radio appearance on Studs Terkel's Wax Museum show.
The artists and their record companies are reluctant to endorse the albums, which often distract from carefully curated reissue programmes.
A spokesman for Apple, the company which controls the Beatles’s affairs, said the Bootleg album would be a digital-only release. However the album would remain on iTunes indefinitely, allaying fears on Beatles websites that it would be withdrawn from sale at the end of the year.
The collection, which includes versions of She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and Twist and Shout, omits other 1963 recordings, such as sessions for the With the Beatles album, which have long-circulated on unofficial bootlegs and will now fall into the public domain.
The UK government backed an extension of EU sound copyright following a lobbying campaign led by Sir Cliff Richard, whose earliest songs had begun to fall out of copyright and Roger Daltrey of The Who. The 70-year provision came into effect from last month, alongside a fund created from the extra royalties to pay session musicians 20% of revenues from sales of their recordings.
The “use it or lose it” clause allows performers and musicians to claim back their performance rights in sound recordings if they are not being commercially exploited. However some of music’s biggest names would prefer to bury their unsatisfactory early recording attempts altogether. Only records released on or after January 1, 1963 fall under the new regulations.
Lord Younger, Minister for Intellectual Property, said: “Artists who performed on sound recordings will benefit from this extension of copyright protection from 50 to 70 years. The changes should help ensure that musicians are rewarded for their creativity and hard work throughout their careers.”
The extension frustrated “crate-digging” independent labels which seek to produce new compilations shedding light on obscure, out-of-copyright material neglected by record companies.
Copyright control: hits and misses
Elvis Presley: Jailhouse Rock
Seminal 1957 rock’n’roll classic made UK No 1 in 2005 during re-release programme to capitalise on Elvis hits falling out of copyright.
Cliff Richard: The Young Ones
1962 chart-topper was re-recorded by Cliff and The Shadows in 2009 to create a freshly copyrighted version.
The Rolling Stones: You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover
Early line-up made 1962 studio debut with Bo Diddley cover; it featured on bootlegs but never on official releases.