What if The Beatles had used Creative Commons Licenses?

A collection of news and views across The Beatles universe, in no particular order; from politics to parody, paradigm to paradox.

Blue Meanies Spotted in Japan

I read the news today oh boy… About an old man arrested for performing Beatles songs on his harmonica:

A 73-year-old bar manager who illegally performed copyrighted tunes by the Beatles and other artists on the harmonica was arrested Thursday on suspicion of violating the Copyright Law, police said. More on this story at the Mutantfrog Travelogue.

And though the news was rather sad… I feel fine ’cause Mr Martin made a mashup with a Beatles thing called "Love".

Love is all you need

Original Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles have spent the last two years remixing the Fab Four’s music at Abbey Road Studios. The Love album combines previously separate songs into a 1.5 hour musical medley, mixed and available in 5.1 surround sound. Love samples 130 songs to create 27 musical pieces. The songs are mixed into a soundscape where the lyrics and instrumentation from one song merge with the next. The project was commissioned for the Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show of the same name that is currently showing in Las Vegas. The show by the world-famous circus troupe is a lavish biographical interpretation of The Beatles story, written and directed by Dominic Champagne and performed in a theater production costing around $150 million. It’s the first time Apple Corps Ltd. has partnered in a joint venture, permission for the production being granted from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison (the latter two representing John Lennon and George Harrison, respectively).

When I’m Sixty-Four

Earlier this year on June 18, Paul McCartney turned 64 years of age. According to The Sunday Times Rich List, Sir Paul is Britain’s second richest music industry millionaire, thought to be worth around $825m. Former Zomba Records owner Clive Calder is the first, with an estimated fortune of £1,300m (Britney Spears and ‘N Sync). In an ironic twist to the famous Beatles’ song lyrics of "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m Sixty-Four ", he separated from his wife, Heather Mills McCartney just one month before his 64th birthday. There’s a French tribute site called When I’m 64, where you can listen to different renditions of the popular song.

I recall Cherie Blair performing her own rendition of the song for her husband Tony during a diplomatic mission to China in July, 2003.

Moments earlier the prime minister had faced a hostile grilling from students at Tsinghua University over the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly and the war in Iraq. (BBC) – Details can be found at Wikipedia David Kelly.

Media copies of Cherie’s performance are widely available on the Internet but in her case I assume no copyright laws have been broken (fair use?). The Blairs are lawyers and know all about avoiding illegalities before any spin is put on the record. Perhaps Tony could have reciprocated such overt signs of affection by singing My Cherie Amour.

Mrs Blair wasn’t the only one contemplating a career move at the time. Alastair Campbell, "Prime Minister’s Director of Communications and Strategy" aka chief ‘spin-doctor’ resigned his position on 29 August 2003. There’s a movie about political spin-doctoring called Spin that you can watch on Google Video. Can you feel the sting of nostalgia yet? Can you see the Real Me, doctor?

The UK Hall of Fame

Last night I watched the UK Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony on TV. Musicians of all nationalities are honoured for their lifetime achievements in music. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was given the role of inducting the legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin, now eighty years of age, into the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately Brown’s rise to the podium took an unexpected turn, as members of the audience began to boo and heckle him. Although he bulldozed on with the introduction, the damage was done and the stalled PR exercise descended into the classic, spiraling nose-dive maneuver, so dreaded by politicians, known as negative spin. Given John Lennon was an anti-war activist who wrote the song "Give Peace a Chance", was it ever going to be any different? Did Brown really expect to blag a room full of Bon Jovi fans? Isn’t that Tony’s job? God only knows.

The Mashup Hall of Fame

Which brings me to Brian Wilson, who was also inducted into the hall of fame, this time by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd who were inducted in 2005 by Pete Townshend of The Who, previously inducted by Ray Davies of The Kinks who were inducted by footballer Geoff Hurst!

The Beatles were to cite Wilson’s work as a major influence and according to Paul McCartney, the Beach BoysPet Sounds album inspired the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Indeed The Beatles and many of their British peers had drawn heavily upon the musical ideas coming out of America during the 1950’s and 60’s. You can find out more about their early influences and listen to the oldest known recordings at Before They Were Beatles: The Quarrymen. Bye the way, Paul McCartney owns the publishing rights to Buddy Holly’s music  and the Beatles covered his songs (see MPL Communications). 

Sadly this freedom does not extend to Clayton Counts and his Beachles creation Sgt. Petsound’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. His treatment by EMI lawyers has been more along the lines of the Spanish Inquisition. Clayton joins the ‘most wanted’ list of other ‘outlaws’ hounded by EMI in the Mashup Hall of Fame, including Danger Mouse (Grey Album) and dj BC (Beastles). For more info on mashups and sampling see the following:


Remember kids, (all you need is cash) to ask for permission before using copyrighted music.

Copyright Life Extension

Sticking with intellectual property and copyright issues, lets move on to information published on the BPI website. The BPI = the British record industry’s trade association = RIAA.

Firstly: Gowers Review

"In December last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked Andrew Gowers, formerly the Editor of the Financial Times, to launch a review into the UK’s intellectual property framework – deadline for submission of evidence was Friday 21 April 2006.  The BPI, the UK record companies’ trade association, submitted written and oral evidence."

And this recent statement: ‘British consumers demand fair play on copyright for British musicians’.

"New research shows a majority of British consumers support the record industry’s battle for extended copyright protection for UK artists.

62 per cent of those polled agreed that UK artists should be protected for the same number of years as their American counterparts, by extending the term of copyright for sound recordings from its current 50 years to 95 years."

Peter Jamieson, chairman of the BPI, says:

“We are hugely encouraged that the majority of British consumers agree with us that UK musicians should receive as much copyright protection as their US counterparts.” 

"Our unique and internationally renowned industry would use a term extension to continue to invest heavily in the creative economy for future generations and consolidate the rights and works of our cultural ambassadors.”

If this was a Monty Python sketch it might be funny, however, No Rock&Roll Fun has some interesting thoughts on the fiasco that makes the BPI poll sound more like Cash for Questions or Cash for Peerages rather than a mandate from the British public.

Although the BPI prefer to give the impression of a record industry that’s an organized and unified whole, in reality it’s not. It’s a competitive and chaotic market with hundreds of record labels, publishers, artists, management, etc, fighting for a piece of the cake, who frequently disagree and constantly negotiate. Many deals are fought out aggressively on the back of ownership rights and disputes like the current American case of Universal vs MySpace. Take a look at the legal issues and copyright lawsuits littering the landscape, it’s not a pretty picture. Former Clash and Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, lifts the lid on the music business in a recent interview for The Register – Big labels are f*cked, and DRM is dead.

Contrary to what many copyright holders would have us believe, the notion that artists always get paid and treated fairly is unrealistic. For example The Beatles are currently suing EMI, who hold the rights to The Beatles sound recordings in perpetuity, for £30 million in missing royalties, and here’s more: Beatles to sue over royalty claim. It’s quite common for money get lost in a highly complex financial system.

For us lesser mortals, how many people working in the record industry will have adequate pensions in retirement? How expensive and risky is it for musicians to audit a record label’s accounts? How can artists disagree with their ‘bosses’ in a variable price system and survive the ‘bargain bucket’? How many artists and consumers know about the Sony rootkit? How much damage is being done by the Sample Trolls? For many people in the music business it’s like working in a bubble that’s about to burst.  

An extension on traditional copyright will effect all types of sound recordings and would potentially lock the recordings out of common culture. How? Instead of being abundantly available in the public domain they will remain restricted, privately owned and therefor scarce. Anyone wishing to use the material runs into problems trying to get permission from the copyright holder/s. In a world of limitless circumstances, the difficult process of finding the copyright owner becomes prohibitive and the creative incentive is lost. Where would Walt Disney be without the ability to draw upon the public domain?

Bear in mind some works that are already in the public domain may become re-copyrighted. In the UK, over 40 years of copyright free music will be forced back into private hands. Due to copyright infringement, what was once plentiful may suddenly vanish including, websites with movies, audio and MIDI files, guitar tabs, lyrics, photos, etc. Most songs are owned by businesses and not the original composer/lyricist, so any financial benefits to copyright extension are not necessarily passed on to descendants.

Support the Open Rights Group



The Open Rights Group is an organization based in the UK raising awareness of digital rights issues. Release The Music is a campaign focusing on how the music industry is lobbying to change the duration of copyright on sound recordings from 50 years to 95 years. It provides information about intellectual property rights and the debate surrounding copyright extension. In particular I recommend listening to the audio files of Jonathan Zittrain’s excellent overview of what intellectual property and copyright is, and the recent public debate chaired by representatives for and against copyright extension. If you want to Get Involved you can support Release The Music by signing the online petition or blogging to raise awareness.

As this is a public ownership issue that affects everyone, opposition to the record industry’s stance is useful for stimulating public debate. It’s important to listen to the arguments both for and against copyright extension. If key people in the record industry believe public perception to be irrelevant this could have serious consequences for record labels in the future. A recent IPSOS European blog survey of 5000 people reveals a quarter of Europeans trust blogs. Negative spin impacts buying habits to the degree that "39 million people have not bought a product or service in the past because of comments read on the Internet from other customers or private individuals". The large growth in social media means issues of trust will become increasingly crucial to economic success in the future.

See also:

MySpace or Your Space?

The problem the record industry has is one of poor public perception. In the real world, what counts is what people feel and believe but much of what we’ve been told in the past has turned out to be hype. The boundaries are dissolving and in the disintermediated era of New Media almost anyone can become an artist, label, publisher, distributor. In the real world, Grey Tuesday works and the unleashed dog is happiest when it’s wagging The Long Tail.

Teenagers need friends, music, bands, lifestyle, and these things are readily available online, nothing will ever stop that type of impulse, just look at the rise of MySpace and YouTube. Telling kids not to download music illegally is about as effective as telling musicians not to sample other people’s recordings with a digital sampler. Reinforcing negative messages can be counter productive. In the presence of such tools we’re like the apes reacting to the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some see these tools as weapons of mass destruction but in reality it was the so called ‘illegal’ downloading of music that opened the flood gates to selling music online. Copyright was the barrier used to stem the tide of illegal file-sharing, DRM was the secret weapon and iTunes became the gatekeeper. The Beatles have yet to make their music available online, although it came to light in the Apple vs Apple court case, once The Beatles catalog has been digitally remastered it will happen. The absence of Beatles music online has likely encouraged illegal file-sharing of their music. 

When Universal the world’s biggest music group goes up against the world’s most popular social network the outcome is sure to generate interest. Young people don’t really care about the business but the business relies on them and it’s dangerous for corporations to alienate their customers. Youngsters just want somewhere to hang-out, chat, evolve. That’s where MySpace is successful, it can bring the street corner into the home. It also provides a solution for parents and children of a certain, critical age, to engage; a social tool and common ground where parents can witness the way youths connect in the real world. MySpace hits precisely at the intersection of culture where parenting issues and teenagers converge. This is hot territory for advertisers, promoters and marketers. If you ever need to understand the phenomenon, watch a group of teenagers multitasking in a Web 2.0 social space (instant messaging, MySpace, etc). Young people instinctively get it, Rupert Murdoch and others have it, the record labels want part of it. This is the Day of The Longtail.

What If?

I wonder what The Beatles legacy would have been had they released music under Open Music licenses; a future-friendly, flexible system that protected the artist’s commercial/non-commercial rights but provided the opportunity for others to freely share and build upon their creations. It’s easy to imagine how the movie and soundtrack to our lives would be very different visually, audibly and musically; fueled by an open, abundant and sustainable reservoir of creative ideas. But can such a sytem ever really exist?

In an imaginary copyleft world many of the things I’ve mentioned would not happen and the spin on world events would take another turn. The Beatles were arguably the most influential band of the twentieth century. Their iconic status and music reverberated throughout the chambers of society and culture globally; including the arts, business, technology, politics and religion. They were the first band to be globally transmitted on television, in front of an estimated 400 million people worldwide. Just like The Beatles and other bands of the time, musicians today are using the latest media technologies to promote their ideas. Of course the Internet and Creative Commons licenses didn’t exist back in the 1960’s…but they do now. Amen.

As Alexander Graham Bell once said:

"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."

When it comes to intellectual property, controversy is never far away. Bell was generally accepted as the inventor of the telephone, having obtained the patent with financing from his American father-in-law on March 7, 1876. He managed to get the patent before other developers that were working along similar lines did at the time. However, a century later, on September 25, 2001, the US Congress declared by resolution that it was the Italian American, Antonio Meucci, that actually invented the telephone. That 95 year copyright extension rings a bell

"Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it."
John Lennon

Assorted Beatles Booty

Beatles on Film

Beatles Parody Bands, Mashups and Spoofs

‘A Film, an Album, and a Lawsuit’ excerpt from BBC – h2g2 – The Rutles – the Band

"At the time that All You Need is Cash and The Rutles were released, the rights to the Beatles’ back-catalogue were owned by publishing company ATV. Missing the point by several miles, the company sued the producers of the Rutles’ music for infringement of copyright. Rather than fighting the case, the decision was made to hand over half of the rights to the Rutles’ songs to ATV, instantly halving Innes’s income from his music. As a final insult, Innes was obliged to add the names of Lennon and McCartney or George Harrison to the writing credits on his songs."


Free Culture and Copyleft Links


Further Resources

Mashup Bands, DJ’s and Song Cover Vesions

Quick Links to Videos in this Post

  • When I’m Sixty-Four: Spin – A surreal expose of media-constructed reality. W.A.S.P. The Real Me – A cover of The Who song.
  • The UK Hall of Fame: Give Peace a Chance – John and Yoko at the Montreal bed in. "Elected" – a 1972 Top 10 UK hit for Alice Cooper.
  • The Mashup Hall of Fame: Monty Python – The Spanish Inquisition
  • Copyright Life Extension: "Encore" – A Beatles video mashup for the Grey Album.
  • MySpace or YourSpace?: The Long Tail Party and Day of the Longtail – promo videos for the book. Copyright Criminals: This is a Sampling Sport – documentary about the art of sampling and creating music.
  • What If?: Amen – "This fascinating, brilliant 20-minute video narrates the history of the "Amen Break," a six-second drum sample from the b-side of a chart-topping single from 1969. This sample was used extensively in early hiphop and sample-based music, and became the basis for drum-and-bass and jungle music — a six-second clip that spawned several entire subcultures. Nate Harrison’s 2004 video is a meditation on the ownership of culture, the nature of art and creativity, and the history of a remarkable music clip."

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