I love the Beatles, don't get me wrong. I worship and adore. Paul McCartney in concert is a religious experience. But I'm over it. I'm over Beatlemania. I want it to stop. Why? Why now? Ah, a little thing called sound recording copyright.
In 2012, the Beatles first recorded single, "Love Me Do," will enter the public domain. Originally released in 1962, under the UK copyright law a sound recording no longer belongs to the artist who recorded it after 50 years. Some big name artists and record company advocacy groups lobbied to get an extension to mirror the United States 95-year term. In April of this year, the European Union approved an extension from 50 to 70 years, however, the U.K. and member states have balked at it and the proposal has gotten lost in the political shuffle.
So of course the Beatles, and more specifically their label group EMI, want to exploit the recordings as much as they can before it becomes public property and can be used free of charge.
It begs a larger question, what is the use of copyright in today's world?
Consumer advocates are against copyright extension because they feel it stifles creativity, stunts innovation and punishes public use of art. If Ringo Starr can continue to profit from recordings made 50 years ago, he'll never record a new song ever again! The entire point of copyright protection is to create and profit for only a set period of time and then let the public enjoy it for free. Of note is that once recordings enter the public domain, artists can also use their recordings for free and not have to pay or license them from the record companies.
Back in the day, record companies used the sales and profits of back catalog to fund and develop new artists. Today, most labels are loosing money hand over fist because consumers don't want to spend $15 on round, little disks.
Back catalog is the saving grace for the embattled music industry to boost their profit margins -- between the Beatles and Michael Jackson, EMI and Sony, respectively, are having relatively good years.
However, the copyright of a song is valid for the life of the author plus 70 years. Ironically, the Beatles don't even own their songs, Michael Jackson's estate does (Jackson purchased the Beatles catalog in 1985 out from under Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono). Poor Jackson is raking in money all over the place. People are even taking bets on who will be the largest selling act of 2009 -- Jackson or the Beatles. It's beyond bizarre.
So now we are stuck with Beatlemania. A last ditch effort to make as much money off of the Beatles' sound recordings as humanly possible. We are even stuck with the game "The Beatles: Rock Band." According to published reports, the Beatles' remastered catalog and the game could generate approximately $1.6 billion, which is more that the gross domestic product of some countries.
John Lennon, George Harrison and Michael Jackson must be looking down on us quoting Shakespeare (whose works are in the public domain) and saying, "What fools these mortals be."