Beatles Finally for Sale on Apple’s iTunes Store

The Beatles look set to make their music available for the first time on Apple’s industry-leading iTunes digital entertainment store, the company behind the iPod and iPhone is expected to announce on Tuesday, signaling an end to the company’s disputes with the best-selling band.

The Beatles
John Pratt | Keystone | Getty Images
The Beatles

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison have been the most prominent hold-outs against music’s digital age, which has seen the value of recordings collapse from their peak in the compact disc era.

The band, which also resisted putting its music on compact disc for several years until 1987, is expected to see some boost to sales one of the world’s most enduring catalogues.

Music industry members doubt that an iTunes launch alone would have the impact of past physical re-releases of its music, but an agreement between Apple and the Beatles could open the way to premium-packaged products such as Beatles-branded devices loaded with the band’s music.

The copyrights to the Beatles’ earliest recordings will start expiring from the end of 2012, 50 years after ‘Love Me Do’ was released. Past initiatives to squeeze more value out of the catalogue before that deadline have sold tens of millions of Beatles CDs, which can be transferred to computers, iPods, iPhones and other digital music devices.

An iTunes launch would be welcome news to EMI, which holds the rights to Beatles recordings, and to its indebted private equity owner, Guy Hands’ Terra Firma group, which remains deadlocked with Citigroup over the future of the music company after a failed court battle against its bank.

EMI’s owner said in August that it had sold more than 13 million remastered Beatles albums since it released all 13 of the band’s mono and stereo UK albums in September 2009, making the band its best-selling act for the last financial year and driving its recorded music revenues up 6.5 percent in a falling market.

An iTunes deal would also boost Sony ATV, the music publishing joint venture between Sony , the Japanese electronic group, and the estate of Michael Jackson, which manages the rights to the lyrics and music of 251 Beatles songs.

Sony ATV has encouraged the surviving Beatles, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison to permit the catalogue to be used on the American Idol television talent show, a Rock Band video game, a Cirque du Soleil show and a Broadway tribute musical.

Expectations of a music-related announcement from Apple’s digital store were stirred by a teasing notice on its website, which read: “Tomorrow is just another day that you’ll never forget. Check back here tomorrow for an exciting announcement from iTunes.”

Speculation that Apple could announce a much-anticipated streaming service, giving users access to an unlimited selection of tracks for a fee rather than paying for individual downloads, was dismissed by industry members, who said large record labels had yet to agree the terms of licenses that Apple would need for such a service.

Apple Corps, the Beatles’ record label, waged a drawn-out trademark battle with Apple, arguing that the computer maker had agreed in 1991 not to use the Apple brand in connection with music content. The iTunes store opened more than seven years ago.

Ms Ono told Reuters this summer that Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, was “a brilliant guy [but] there’s just an element that we’re not very happy about, as people. We are holding out.”

EMI, Apple and Sony ATV declined to comment.