|Bulldog Records in Italy had a jolly slogan "It was more than 20 years ago" back when Italian copyright law only protected foreign music for 20 years.|
WogBlog has been hit by a lot of traffic coming from the general media, since we've both been quoted from and linked to a lot lately. One of the people who found our little hideaway on the internet was the keeper of a unique Beatles recording, and he wrote us an email, asking what to do with it.
We've tried to reply as best we could, and in the cause of this we have been thinking about how this change in copyright law in Europe will affect these kinds of recordings.
To start with, a short recap of the current European law on copyright of recorded music:
A) If it has been released, it is protected for 70 years from the year of release.
B) If it is unreleased, it is protected for 50 years from year of recording.
A and B becomes public domain after that. Once there, they can not be copyrighted again.
Before the new law was passed in November 2013, the limit was 50 years in both instances.
So, as of now (December 2013), anything published in 1962 or earlier is in the public domain, whether it has been previously released or not.
However, recordings from 1962 or earlier which has been published some time later in the 50 years from 1962-2012 are protected from the year it was published.
To explain this, take the case of the Decca audition tape. Recorded in 1962, expires in 2012. Except that the Beatles published five of the tape's fifteen songs on Anthology 1 in 1995. So those songs are protected for 70 years, counting from 1995. In this example, anyone can make a CD of the remaining ten tracks and sell it for profit. The Beatles missed the boat on that one. If they had done like Bob Dylan and released unreleased stuff like the full Decca Tape in 2012, the Anthology Decca tracks would be protected by copyright until 2065 and the rest would have remained in copyright until 2082.
This is just an example, I haven't speculated if inclusion of snippets from the other Decca tracks found on the Anthology DVD series could have extended copyrights of these songs further.
Let's say someone recorded a Beatles concert in 1964. The tape has survived all these years, it's okay in the sonic department, you can hear the screaming fans - but also the songs, and John and Paul speaking between songs. The concert tape would be somewhat attractive to fans.
As I see it there are four options.
1. You could keep things as they are, and enjoy owning the tape for yourself.
2. You could offer your tape for sale.
3, You could release it on CD some time after 01.01.2015 yourself or via an established record label.
4. You could put up sound files of the concert on the internet after 01.01.2015 and share them freely with anyone.
Should you consider options 3 or 4, to release the taped concert some time in the future, free or otherwise, it needs to be transferred to digital files. Even if you chose option 1 or 2, having the concert in a digital format will be more convenient. You could make a CD or sound files for your own enjoyment in option 1, and in option 2 you could offer potential buyers the chance to listen to free samples.
Of course, you could also start manufacturing CDs yourself and start selling them on the internet or via mail order without the aid of a record label, but there are some snags. Since the contents of the tape will be in the public domain, there is no need to pay anyone anything for the performance itself, but there are other fees involved that will apply, like royalties on publishing rights etc . I don't have a complete overview of these, but partnering with a record company will take care of that part of the business.
Since you are in possession of the sole copy of the tape, and as such it will not be released by anybody else, under current EU laws, after 01.01.1965 the performance captured on the tape will fall into the public domain. This is somewhat of a double-edged sword, because it means that you can release it yourself, but after that, so can anybody. So if you reach an agreement with a record label and start to manufacture CDs, anybody can then buy the CD and start making his own CD copies and sell them... Still, for a limited time, it's possible to make a profit on initial sales, I suppose.
To maximize these initial profits, you will of course also have to shell out for a big advertising campaign - unless you are already directly in touch with the online communities who are the main potential customers.
So, if I had such a recording, I probably would try to sell it (after having made a recording of it for myself). And I would think that I would get more from it via an international auction house, during one of their entertainment memorabilia auctions. They are attracting a different, more "high-brow" crowd than ebay auctions. The recording's uniqueness is likely to attract more than one bidder, and a bidding war will up the price.
Until The Beatles/Universal Music decide to release a few live Beatles concerts, there will be a demand for a complete Beatles concert to be available. Mainly because Apple/Beatles haven't bothered to take their 1977 LP/cassette release "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl" into the digital domain as a CD or a download.
However, hot-on-the-heels of today's release "Bootleg Recordings 1963", we heard whispers of more to come - even before Christmas. Stay tuned....