June 8, 2004 1:03 PM PDT

Beatles catalog headed for digital distribution?

Talks have begun that could finally make the songs of The Beatles available for sale online, sources familiar with the situation said.

Representatives for The Beatles have spoken with numerous online music providers, ranging from small companies to Microsoft, which is planning to open an Internet music store this year. The Beatles' side is asking for a considerable sum in return for providing exclusive online distribution rights, perhaps for as long as a year or more.

"They are looking for someone to come up with the ideal way to put The Beatles online," one digital music executive told CNET News.com.

That interest could lead to a milestone in the short history of digital music. Online music services are struggling to prove they can offer more music than a brick-and-mortar store, and the lack of songs by rock and roll's premier group has been an oft-cited gap in their appeal.

The Beatles broke up more than three decades ago, but their music continues to sell in high volumes.

"One of the things that has held back digital music online has been lack of availability of very popular artists, notably among them The Beatles," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. "If they are able to come to some sort of licensing terms, it bodes very well for the online model and would probably pave the way for some of the other holdouts to come online."

But it may be some time before "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Let it Be" are sold on Apple Computer's iTunes or on Napster. One idea being considered is a Beatles-branded store that would be the only place online where the group's music, videos and other multimedia products would be sold, sources said. The store could be operated by one of the existing online music services.

Some other marquee bands have pursued this strategy, but it has not been adopted widely. Musician Dave Matthews maintains an exclusive online store on a site operated by MusicToday, a company associated with his manager.

Other big-name artists still waiting on the digital sidelines, to one degree or another, include Led Zeppelin and Madonna.

The current round of discussions is being led by The Beatles' representatives rather than the group's record label, EMI, sources said. EMI owns The Beatles' master recordings but has sought the artists' permission before putting the songs online.

"We've had several discussions with them, because we think it would be terrific to make all The Beatles' work available in digital services," said EMI spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer. "We would be delighted if they made that decision."

In an earlier technology shift, and another example of a cautious approach, The Beatles catalog appeared on CD well after most of the music world had already made the transition.

Any exclusive deal--especially if the music is distributed in a proprietary copy-protected format from a company such as Apple or Microsoft--could spotlight the growing problem of the lack of interoperability between services, digital music formats and portable devices, analysts said.

The Apple factor
If The Beatles songs were to appear in Microsoft's format, they would not be directly playable on Apple's iPod, which does not support Windows Media. If the tunes were to appear in Apple's copy-protected format, they couldn't be played directly on any digital music device other than the iPod, since Apple has not licensed use of its FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) tools to rivals.

The long shadow of The Beatles has already touched the world of digital music. Apple Corps--the company formed by The Beatles in 1968 to manage their business interests--sued Apple Computer in a dispute over the use of the Apple name and logo after last year's release of the iTunes song store.

The two companies had tussled once before, in 1989, when Apple Corps objected to Apple Computer's name and logo after the computer maker's expansion into music-related products such as digital music software. Apple Computer settled the case for $27 million and agreed to avoid using the similar trademarks in most music-related contexts.

In a statement released after The Beatles' company brought suit last year, Apple Computer said "Apple and Apple Corps now have differing interpretations of this agreement and will need to ask a court to resolve this dispute."

6 comments

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Revolution or Cooption?
If the suits now running the Beatles corporate enterprise, who
pioneered the creative explosion in music in the 60's and 70's,
now sign on with Microsoft, the copycat military-industrial
behemoth of the digital world, they'll betray the revolution.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Not on iTunes until suit is settled
I doubt The Beatles (I think the british would use the term "old foggies" to describe this technologically backward group) would allow their music to be sold through iTunes, as they are suing Apple (through Apple) because the iTunes Music Store "treads on their turf" so to speak. By allowing their songs to be sold on iTunes they would be legitimating iTunes, which is not in their interest, apparently.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Beatles Online
I want Super Audio cds and Dvd Audio, not bit compressed formats. If you have not listened to Super Audio Cds or Dvd Audio, you are missing out on two incredible formats. They are what Hi Def is, to video.
Posted by als (154 comments )
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Great....
Yet another artist wanting to create their own music store.

At this rate every artist will have their own store that you have to visit to get one of their songs.

Its kinda like instead of department stores we had a store for each brand name lined up in a row stretching off over the horizon.

So much for rediscovering by accident songs you once loved. If things continue this way the only way your going to get a music collection is if you know specifically what song by what artist on what album you want and spend a lot of time searching the internet for the appropriate store.

This is not progress.
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
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Progress...the RIAA...and Niagara Falls
Actually it is progress. If an artist can become independent from the RIAA bastards by simply setting up their own store I say more power to them. In the case of the Beatles its all about $$$$$$$ instead of freedom from the suits.
Things like this is exactly why the RIAA has been fighting like a MOFO the last couple of years. Pirating is just an excuse. Its all about maintaining control over the medium and in this case its a lose lose situation for the RIAA. In 20 years there is going to be NO need for the RIAA period. They are doing their damnedest to make sure they survive but its like fighting Niagara Falls 30 feet from the drop off. Its a losing battle at this point. Theyve dug their own grave its now just a matter of having them fall over dead into it. They are a walking corpse of a conglomerate they just dont know it yet.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Link Flag
Too little to late........
allofmp3.com for those that can't adapt or cope or simply want to be a PITA for the sake of being a PITA I will nab whatever I want off the above site. I've gotten 80% of my music off of iTMS but if some artist is going to be an *** I have not problems going somewhere else.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
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