The Beatles arrive on iTunes

Yesterday, the Beatles on iTunes seemed so far away—now it looks as though they’re here to stay. On Tuesday, Apple announced that the Fab Four’s entire catalog is now available for download from the iTunes Store. The complete box set of the group is available for $149, with many individual tracks selling for $1.29 apiece. Single albums cost $13 each, with double albums such as the Past Masters compilation going for $20.

Each of the 13 remastered albums also sports iTunes LP features, including a mini-documentary on the making of the album. The complete box set also features an exclusive: the “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964” film of the Beatles’s first U.S. concert. However, if you’re not ready to pony up the full cost of the complete discography, don’t worry: everybody will be able to stream the video from iTunes for free for the rest of 2010.

“We love the Beatles and are honored and thrilled to welcome them to iTunes,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in the company’s press release. “It has been a long and winding road to get here. Thanks to the Beatles and EMI, we are now realizing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes ten years ago.”

Beatles members Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr chimed in as well in the company’s release. “We’re really excited to bring the Beatles’ music to iTunes,” said McCartney. “It’s fantastic to see the songs we originally released on vinyl receive as much love in the digital world as they did the first time around.”

“I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes,” Starr added. “At last, if you want it—you can get it now—The Beatles from Liverpool to now! Peace and Love, Ringo.”

John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono Lennon and George Harrison’s wife Olivia Harrison also voiced their approval. “In the joyful spirit of Give Peace A Chance, I think it is so appropriate that we are doing this on John’s 70th birthday year,” said Lennon. “The Beatles on iTunes—Bravo!” said Harrison.

The appearance of the Beatles on iTunes is the culmination of years of rumors, half-starts, and legal disputes between Apple and the Beatles’s Apple Corps. In a day and age where most new music is released online, the Beatles have long been the most prominent holdout from digital downloads. The closest the lads from Liverpool got was last year, when a limited edition of the band’s remastered discography was released on a USB flash drive with high quality digital tracks.

Despite Jobs’s well known love of the Beatles, Apple and Apple Corps have had a tortuous legal history spanning more than three decades. The companies first met in 1978, shortly after Apple’s inception, when Apple Corps sued the nascent computer company for trademark infringement; the two settled a few years later, with Apple agreeing to stay out of the music business. That lasted until 1989, when Apple started selling a Mac that could synthesize music; Apple Corps sued, saying that the move violated the earlier deal.

The two companies settled for a second time in 1991. That lasted until 2003, when Apple launched the iTunes Store, over which Apple Corps launched a new suit, once again pointing to Apple’s entry into the music business as a clear violation of the two companies’ settlement. That court case dragged on for several years until 2007, when the two companies struck a new deal to settle the breach. By the terms of the new deal, Apple would own all rights related to Apple trademarks and would in turn license those rights back to Apple Corps.

With Tuesday’s move, Apple becomes the first music download service to offer the Beatles, which is no doubt a feather in Steve Jobs’s personal cap. But, more importantly, it means that we no longer have to endlessly speculate about when the Beatles will finally arrive on iTunes. And there’s just no price tag you can put on that.

Updated at 7:16 PT to add more information on the Beatles albums and extras, and quotes from Apple’s press release.

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