Beatles for iTunes

It’s looking like the Beatles catalog will finally be available for legal download.

Record company EMI Group PLC said Sunday it planned to unveil “an exciting new digital offering” with computer company Apple Inc., raising expectations that The Beatles’ music catalog is about to be made available through Apple’s iTunes online music store.

EMI said it would hold a news conference Monday at its London headquarters with its chief executive, Eric Nicoli, and Apple boss Steve Jobs “and a special live performance.” The company gave no further details.

EMI has been The Beatles’ record label since the early 1960s.

The Beatles have so far been the most prominent holdout from iTunes and other online music services, and Apple’s overtures to put the music online were stymied by a long-running trademark dispute with The Beatles’ commercial guardian, Apple Corps. Ltd.

This is very interesting and, clearly, the Beatles remain a huge franchise more than nearly forty years after their breakup. Still, it’s not as if Beatles songs haven’t been available for ripping to digital format.

UPDATE: It turns out the real news is quite different and, ultimately, perhaps more important:

Apple on Monday said EMI Music has agreed to allow its entire digital music catalog to be sold free of digital rights management controls on Apple’s iTunes music store, the first major label to lift usage restrictions on an entire catalog of downloadable tunes. The deal does not include songs by the Beatles and possibly other artists.

The tracks will be available at a higher audio quality of 256-Kbps AAC encoding, which is indistinguishable from the original CD recording, according to Apple. The tunes, however, will cost 30 cents more than Apple’s regular price of 99 cents a track. EMI’s catalog will still be available at the lower price with DRM, which restricts the number of times a song can be copied. It also makes it extremely difficult to play the music on multiple portable devices, such as Apple’s iPod and Microsoft’s Zune.

“We think our customers are going to love this, and we expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year,” Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple said in a statement. Apple offers more than 5 million tracks on its online store.

The use of DRM has been controversial. Critics claim the technology hasn’t been effective in preventing privacy, and has discouraged consumers from downloading music. Nevertheless, major record companies have been unwilling to release their catalogs DRM free, fearful that they would lose control over the distribution of their product.

Apples will offer customers the option of upgrading their libraries of previously purchased EMI music to the DRM-free format for an additional 30 cents a song. EMI music videos will be available free of restrictions with no change in price.

Very interesting to see how this shakes out.

Many more reactions over at Techmeme


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Forty years after the break-up would 2010. “More than thirty years” works.

  2. Jayson Billington says:

    Look for it to be DRM-free downloads rather than the Beatles.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Forty years after the break-up would 2010.

    They’ll be popular then, too!

  4. Actually, it looks like the big EMI-Apple announcement was that they’d be offering most, but not all, of the EMI catalog available on iTunes without DRM protection.

    The Beatles will still not be available.