The Beatles

Why the Beatles' bootleg 1963 album is coming to iTunes Tuesday

December 15, 2013: 11:58 AM ET

Two words: Copyright expiration. And then there's the money.

Beatles circa Please Please Me. Photo: BBC.

Beatles circa Please Please Me. Photo: BBC.

FORTUNE -- "There's still some life in the old download dog yet," wrote Macworld's Joel Mathis last week, reaching for a theme to connect the surprise unleashing of Beyonce's self-titled album last Friday with the scheduled release next Tuesday of The Beatles: bootleg recordings 1963, both exclusively on iTunes.

UPDATE: That link is live now.

To Mathis, it's all about what he sees as the losing battle Apple (AAPL), still wedded to Steve Jobs' theory that people want to own their music, is waging with Pandora, Spotify, Google Play and the rest of streaming music services.

The truth is both simpler and more cynical. Copyright protection on the 59 hitherto unreleased songs -- two hours of outtakes, BBC recordings and demos (track list below) -- expires at the end of the December, 50 years after they were recorded.408807285533

But thanks to a November revision of European Union intellectual property laws, copyright protection of released songs is extended to 70 years.  If Apple Corps, which owns the copyrights, didn't make these recordings available for sale, every Beatles collector with bootleg MP3 files could legally put out their own album.

Norwegian Beatles blogger Roger Stormo, who broke the news and published the track list last Tuesday, had the copyright angle by Wednesday. The Guardian and the BBC followed up the next day, predicting a wave of annual bootleg releases just ahead of expiration. As the BBC reported:

Bob Dylan's record label rushed out 100 copies of an album last year containing early TV performances, alongside multiple versions of Blowin' in the Wind, Bob Dylan's Dream and I Shall Be Free.

Officially called The 50th Anniversary Collection, it carried a subtitle which explained its true purpose: The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol. 1.

The BBC goes on to speculate, based on the low-key nature of the Beatles release, that after a decent interval Paul McCartney et al. will take the new material off iTunes, "allowing them to exploit the recordings in a more considered way later on."

Below: Stormo's track list.


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