Don’t fire up your iPod just yet, despite the news today from the UK of a settlement in a longstanding royalties dispute between the Beatles and record label EMI. Actually, this settlement is more a matter of semantics than anything else. “We entered into an amicable settlement with the Beatles last month,” an EMI spokesperson told EW.com this afternoon. Today’s reports apparently stem from the buildup of anticipation prompted by last week’s press conference at which EMI chief Eric Nicoli announced a deal to sell most of the label’s music on iTunes (but not the Beatles’ songs, at least not yet. The label is “working on it,” he said of the belated Beatles backlog. “We hope it’s soon.”). Whether or not today’s reports mark a new development, it seems we are moving toward the eventual release of the Beatles’ catalog for legal download.
Much has been made of the fact that word of the settlement comes just two days after the departure of Neil Aspinall from Apple Corps, the Beatles’ business arm, after four decades; he’s being replaced by a former Sony/BMG exec known for handling reissues. Beatles fans have long blamed Aspinall for Apple’s instransigence, but as this New York Times profile points out, he was only doing the bidding of Paul, Ringo, and the Lennon and Harrison estates. Wanna blame someone for the absence of Beatles tracks at iTunes? Blame the Beatles.
The irony of the Beatles’ anti-piracy efforts has been (as my colleague Mike Bruno points out) that, if fans can’t buy Beatles tracks legally, the only way to download them is illegally. (Aspinall has blamed the delay in part on the massive effort underway to digitally remaster all the Beatles tracks to meet 21st-century audio standards, but why not release what’s already out there instead of giving piracy time to flourish? The truly hardcore fans will buy both the current and remastered tracks anyway.) Better they should give the fans something, anything, to download legally; if this settlement brings that prospect one day closer, so much the better.