“Business hassles” are to blame for the continued (and conspicuous) absence of the Beatles’ catalogue from iTunes, according to a recent interview with Paul McCartney on BBC Radio One’s Newsbeat.
According to the former Beatle, the EMI Group, which owns the
mechanical rights master recording rights to the group’s recordings, is the last holdout in a long—and most definitely winding—road that has seen the Fab Four’s work entangled in a web of complications and finger-pointing on its way to Apple’s music store, where it has yet to land.
“To tell you the truth I don’t actually understand how it’s got so crazy,” McCartney told Newsbeat. “I know iTunes would like to do it, so one day it’s going to happen.”
Well, Sir Paul. Perhaps we at Macworld can be of some assistance and give our readers a short overview of the long-running saga.
By virtue of their very names, the relationship between the Apple Corps. and Apple Computer has never been particularly friendly. Troubles began at a time when the very idea of something like iTunes and iPods would have been considered more appropriate for a science-fiction movie than the family room; in 1978, Apple Corps., the holding company founded by the Beatles to manage their business affairs, sued Apple Computer for trademark infringement. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for an amount that was originally estimated in the tens of millions of dollars, but was later revealed to be a mere $80,000.
As part of their first legal encounter, the two companies agreed not to encroach on each other’s business: the Beatles would not produce computer equipment, while Apple would refrain from releasing music products. But, over the next 10 years, the two rivals ended up in court twice more, both times over Apple Computer’s addition of music-related functionality to its computer lines; the computer maker’s continued legal fight with its British namesake led developer Jim Reekes (who is featured in the documentary Welcome to MacIntosh) to christen
the Mac’s startup a Mac OS alert sound “sosumi,” a thinly-veiled homophone of “so sue me.”
iTunes itself didn’t come into the legal crosshairs of the British Apple until 2003, when it once again sued its Californian nemesis over the use of its trademarks in the iTunes Music Store. This time, the computer maker prevailed when a British judge found in Apple’s favor and even ordered Apple Corps. to pay legal fees—though perhaps the event is best remembered for the fact that the BBC mistook a job applicant for the late security expert Guy Kewney and put him on the air to provide commentary on the judge’s decision (which, somewhat fittingly, was based on a legal doctrine called “Moron in a Hurry”).
In 2007, Apple Computer changed its name to Apple Inc. (thus making the act of writing an article about the two companies that much more difficult) and announced a new agreement with Apple Corps. that granted it all the rights to the Apple name in exchange for a hefty $500 million payment. At that year’s Macworld Expo keynote, Steve Jobs was heavy with Beatles references—a fact that many took to signify a rapprochement and the imminent release of the group’s music on the iTunes Store.
Fast forward to 2010, and we’re still waiting for the opportunity to buy such classics as “Yesterday” and “Blue Jay Way” and sync them to our iPods, iPhones, and iPads. In the meantime, the Beatles’ entire catalogue has been remastered in digital form and made available on CD, and even on a limited-edition USB key, while the songs that the four Beatles members have released individually have all become available through iTunes.
Of course, only the parties involved know what the obstacles are to finally resolving this debacle, but it’s probably a safe bet that money has something to do with it—as does the fact that the number of people and companies that need to sign off on any agreement is substantial. In order to seal any any deal, it would need the approval of McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison (wife of the late George), Apple Corps, Apple Inc, and EMI. Considering the sizeable business that the Beatles still command some 40 years after breaking up, and the fact that most of the parties involved have, at some point, been in a legal fight with one another, it’s no surprise that things are dragging on a little; we can only hope that all involved will refrain from waiting until every person on Earth has purchased the Beatles’ CDs before allowing us to purchase and download their songs directly.