Days after Beyonce shook the planet by releasing a new album with no prior warning, two legendary bands from decades past have put out new collections without any pre-release hype, albeit for very different reasons.

Fans who check iTunes every Tuesday morning for new releases may have been surprised to see fresh titles from The Beatles (The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963) and The Beach Boys (The Big Beat 1963) this week. New collections and re-releases from both acts, especially The Beatles, are usually heralded with huge press campaigns. The Beatles’ collection is comprised mainly of alternate versions of their songs, but also demos of “Bad To Me” and “I’m In Love,” both of which were recorded by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas, who, like the Beatles, were managed by Brian Epstein. Unlike The Beatles, the “new” Beach Boys album is comprised of previously unreleased songs from 1963 rather than merely alternate takes, though much of it has been out on unofficial bootlegs.

Strangely, neither The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 nor the Beach Boys’ The Big Beat 1963 even had press releases to announce their existence, and aren’t even mentioned on either band’s official website or Facebook page. On the face of it, that might suggest that these are unauthorized albums that somehow made their way to iTunes.

However, both have been released via Universal Music. The Beatles collection’s page on iTunes reads, “the copyright in these sound recordings is owned by Calderstone Productions Limited (a division of Universal Music Group),” while the Beach Boys’ simply lists Capitol Records as the label. Capitol is, of course, the label that issues both bands’ catalogs, and is owned by Universal. In other words, both of these albums are legitimate releases. So why the low profile?

The clue lies in the fact that both albums are from 1963. According to European Union copyright law, if a recording isn’t released within 50 years of being recorded, ownership of that recording reverts back from the record label into the hands of the artist. By making these recordings commercially available, even without promotion, the labels are retaining the rights to these recordings (for another 20 years, according to the law).

This, no doubt, is a tense situation between the artists and their labels. Surely the surviving Beatles and Beach Boys would like to get the rights to any of their recordings. That would allow them to sell the recordings on their own, or license the sale of the recordings through other companies (and, indeed, Paul McCartney recently took his solo catalog from Capitol to Concord when the rights to those albums reverted to him, something Capitol surely does not want to see happen with even a single Beatles master recording). On the other hand, labels generally won’t try to make a big commercial splash with a box set by an artist whom they have a working relationship with, as is the case with Capitol and both the Beatles and the Beach Boys: they still actively promote both catalogs.


— Brian Ives, 

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