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The Mysterious Case of the Fake Beatles Cover

31 October 2015

From Copyright and Technology:

Several big-name recording artists have been “digital holdouts” who have refused to license their material for distribution through interactive streaming music services like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Rhapsody, and so on.  One by one, most of them eventually gave in and joined the crowd: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Kid Rock, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Frank Zappa.  Only a tiny number of artists remain digital holdouts by choice, including the biggest one of all: the Beatles.  Or are they?

A curious phenomenon occurs around digital holdouts: other artists distribute cover versions of the digital holdouts’ tunes and create appropriate metadata, so that users searching for the big-name artists find the cover versions and play them.  This results in royalties for the cover artists even if the music wasn’t what the users expected. Cover versions with the right metadata are also picked up by Internet radio services.  So, if you searched for “Led Zeppelin” or started a “Led Zeppelin Radio” channel before Led Zep licensed its music to the interactive services, you might have heard Zep covers from a band called Led Zepagain.  When Interscope held Carly Rae Jepsen’s monster hit “Call Me Maybe” back from interactive services a couple of years ago, users heard a cover version by an unknown singer.

If you listen to “Beatles Radio” on a pure Internet radio service like Pandora, you will hear Beatles tunes every once in a while.  That’s because Internet radio services have statutory licenses that allow them to play any song at all, as long as they pay appropriate royalties to record labels and songwriters.  (Similarly, anyone can record a cover version of any song.) But an interactive service can’t offer any song for on-demand listening unless the rights holders have licensed it to do so.

. . . .

Apparently, Liverpool Beat is one of a couple of Beatles cover bands that are designed to sub in for the Beatles in circumstances similar to Led Zepagain for the real Zeppelin.  (There are also a couple of Beatles tribute bands called Liverpool Beat that play bars, weddings, etc., but this is different.)  Liverpool Beat has dozens of Beatles songs available on the major interactive streaming services — including Spotify, Google Play, and Apple Music — from all phases of the Beatles’ career.  I listened to all of them.  They range in quality from mediocre to pretty decent imitations, but they are clearly not the Beatles… except for “In My Life.”  That’s definitely John Lennon singing and George Martin’s double-speed piano solo.

Link to the rest at Copyright and Technology

Copyright/Intellectual Property

10 Comments to “The Mysterious Case of the Fake Beatles Cover”

  1. Many younger folks aren’t concerned about this. If the Beatles and their management aren’t, well, it feels like a loss they’re foisting upon themselves.

    The world today doesn’t need the Beatles. It just doesn’t.

    • Oh there are a lot of us Beatles fans out here still. But then most of us already have the recordings in various forms (including vinyl singles and EPs) and know them so well that we can spot a fake a bar or two in. My husband used to frequent the Cavern back in the day. The real one, not the rebuilt one. I often think I could put him up for sale on eBay as a piece of Beatles memorabilia.

    • “The world today doesn’t need the Beatles. It just doesn’t.”

      Wow, you seem so bitter.

      Did The Fabs refuse your autograph request some time back?

      But really, do I need the Beatles? Nah, already got ’em. In vinyl, DAT, Cassette, 8-Track, CD, Streaming.

      Dan

      Best damn music that ever came out…came out of Liverpool.

      • I love how if we don’t agree with an assertion made by someone else, that person must be “bitter” or something similar.

        It’s easy for us to do that, as it cuts off the need for any further thought. If we can come to the end of our train of thought, that’s clearly the end of the issue.

        Isn’t life easy?

        • I love how someone can make an assertion for everyone else on the planet and then try to cut off that train of thought because someone else disagrees.

          The world today doesn’t need the Beatles. It just doesn’t.

          MY world doesn’t need the Beatles. There, fixed it for you.

          Dan

  2. Fortunately, there’s plenty of free resources that are easily accessible, not to mention all the Beatles alternatives. Easy Star’s Lonely Dubs Club band offers reggae-flavored beatles, The Rutles is the best of the alterna-Beatles, Cheap Trick performed Sgt. Pepper with an orchestra, and The Fab Faux recreated live the entirety of side two of Abbey Road.

  3. Maybe I am mistake, but I thought Michael Jackson (now his estate) owned the rights to the Beatles’ music.

    • Yep. Jackson bought ATV in 1985. His lawyer contacted Ono and McCartney first, but then Jackson bought it for like $45mm, and then later merged with Sony, who now co-owns it with Jackson’s estate.

      There was also the complication of Apple Records, which I think was partly owned by McCartney at some point; it and Apple fought over copyright/trademark for a while, because originally (I think) there was an agreement that Apple could use Apple as a name unless it did something in music, which was fine until iTunes.

      The Beatles catalogue is now exclusive to iTunes, but apparently not yet on Apple Music.

      Unrelated: I tend to love Beatles music so long as it’s performed by other bands. Like the Across the Universe soundtrack is among my favorites. It’s also a pretty good movie with a cool Eddie Izzard cameo. Jim Sturgess sounds like someone told him to do his best Ewan MacGregor impression, which he did really, really well.

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