Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Apple vs EMI vs Apple?

It all seems pretty simple. Apple wants the Beatles catalog on iTunes. Customers want the Beatles catalog on iTunes. The surviving Beatles seem to want their catalog on iTunes. So why hasn't it happened? According to Paul McCartney:
"It's been business hassles, not with us, or iTunes. It's the people in the middle, the record label. There have been all sorts of reasons why they don't want to do it."
And so we've had a wave of commentary berating said record label -- EMI -- for their wrong-headed stance. But there might be more to the story.

I've spent the past twelve years (in part) creating CD compilations primarily for public radio stations. And I can tell you that rights issues -- even among small independent labels and artists -- can be messy. One of our client stations has artists perform live in the studio. When they do, the artist signs a waiver allowing the station to use that recording for non-commercial purposes, such as a fund raising CD.

Sounds straightforward, right? Well, sometimes the artist has an exclusive contract with a label that covers any and all recordings made, regardless of the venue. Which means the artist had no legal right to sign that waiver. It's up to the label to decide if the track can be used.

Other times the artist is just fine, and the label doesn't have any controlling interest, but the artist's management has exclusive right to make any such deals (and management is seldom on hand when the artist is at the station). So it's the management that has to make that decision.

Now while most times the labels and management organizations will let us use the those tracks, the wheels can move very slowly. Sometimes too slowly and the track has to be dropped in order for the disc to ship on time for the station's fund drive.

No one's the bad guy. They're just following the procedures they are legally bound to. End result's the same, though. The radio station wants the artist on the CD, the artist wants to be on the CD, but it doesn't happen.

EMI doesn't own the Beatles catalog. They represent the Beatles' recorded music on behalf of Apple Corp. (the legal entity of the Beatles) in an arrangement that has a long and complicated history. That catalog has been locked down from the very beginning. Beatles tracks never appear on Greatest Hits or Top 40 collections. Their use has been very carefully controlled. And while it might be EMI, it also might be EMI following the procedures and guidelines laid down in the agreement with Apple.

According to David Kronemyer:
[Beatles manager] Klein was determined that Apple really should be the manufacturer of Beatles (and non-Beatles) records. He wanted to control all activities that a manufacturer possibly could control. The 1969 agreements went further than most royalty contracts in that they gave approval of product, packaging, pickup albums, etc. to the Beatles. Klein not only wanted to keep those features but also add release dates, pricing, approval and placing of advertising, promotion, publicity, etc.
So while Paul McCartney the artist may say he doesn't understand what the problem is, in the end it may very well be that it lies not with EMI, but with his legal avatar, Apple Corp.

 - Ralph

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