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Do we really need more Beatles releases?

The Beatles arrive in America at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on February 7, 1964, not long after they made some of the recording that come out on iTunes today.

The Beatles have a new release out today on iTunes -- "new" in the sense that these are recordings that have never been sold commercially. There are 59 songs including some outtakes from BBC and studio sessions and a few demos from 1963. The reason for the release has more to do with copyright law than demand.

Most casual Beatles fans probably aren't that interested in five new versions of "A Taste of Honey." And most hardcore Beatles fans have already heard what's being released, because there are thousands of bootleg copies available in what Beatles historian Bruce Spizer calls, a gray market. "It's not a case where somebody is going to come arrest you for owning a bootleg. However, if you are selling bootlegs that that certainly would be in violation of the law."

But that European Union law recently changed. Under the old law, a copyright was good for 50 years from the date the recording was made. Under the new rules, copyright owners can get a 20-year extension, if the original recording is released in the first 50 years. "And were it not for this recent European Union extension of copyright law pertaining to sound recordings, they would fall into public domain," says intellectual property attorney Kevin Parks.

That would mean bootleggers could legally sell their copies for a profit, a threat that put enough pressure on Apple records to get them open its vault to the public.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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