The Beatles famously don’t sell their music on Apple’s iTunes. Yet you can already hear the Fab Four’s music on the site — and elsewhere on the Web — by listening to artists who are covering all or parts of their songs, and paying for the privilege to do so.
A comprehensive Billboard piece explains the dichotomy: The Beatles (Paul, Ringo, and the Harrison and Lennon estates) control the recordings of their famous songs, and no one can do anything with them without their permission. But music publisher Sony/ATV owns the Beatles’ publishing — the rights to the underlying compositions of the songs.
Sony/ATV can sell those rights to hip hop artists, jingle makers, or whoever it wants to, and increasingly it is doing so. This ability to exploit an existing asset, without spending any additional money, is what has made the once staid publishing business the sexiest part of the music industry.
Sony/ATV boss Marty Bandier says he consults with Paul McCartney and Lennon widow Yoko Ono before he gives Jay-Z, the Wu Tang Clan, etc., permission to rerecord parts of Beatles songs and then use them in their music, but he doesn’t have to. (McCartney/Ono do get a tiny payment, ranging from a few cents to a fraction of a cent, each time a song is streamed, downloaded, etc). Meanwhile both AAPL’s Steve Jobs and reps from EMI and the Beatles themselves say that the band’s music will likely finally grace iTunes this year.
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