The Beatles Arrive on iTunes: So What?

If you even remotely enjoyed the Fab Four, you already ripped their music

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After decades of legal wrangling, the Beatles are finally entering the digital age. The Fab Four's entire catalog is now available on iTunes with single tracks costing $1.29 and albums $13. For completists, a digital box set with video footage is selling for $149. The question now is, will people care?

While the agreement between Apple Corps, which holds the rights to the Beatles catalog, and Apple Inc is a milestone (reality check: the Beatles are the single best-selling music group of all time), it's naive to think even the most casual music fan hasn't already gotten the Beatles on MP3 (either by ripping CDs or illegally downloading tracks). So what's the significance of the deal?

  • They Finally Worked it Out, cheers Dan Moren at MacWorld

Despite Jobs’s well known love of the Beatles, Apple and Apple Corps have had a tortuous legal history spanning more than three decades. The companies first met in 1978, shortly after Apple’s inception, when Apple Corps sued the nascent computer company for trademark infringement; the two settled a few years later, with Apple agreeing to stay out of the music business. That lasted until 1989, when Apple started selling a Mac that could synthesize music; Apple Corps sued , saying that the move violated the earlier deal.

The two companies settled for a second time in 1991. That lasted until 2003, when Apple launched the iTunes Store, over which Apple Corps launched a new suit, once again pointing to Apple’s entry into the music business as a clear violation of the two companies’ settlement. That court case dragged on for several years until 2007, when the two companies struck a new deal to settle the breach. By the terms of the new deal, Apple would own all rights related to Apple trademarks and would in turn license those rights back to Apple Corps.

  • What a Great Use of My Money! snickers Shane Richmond at The Telegraph:
Do you remember the thrill of buying your first Beatles album on vinyl? How about buying it on cassette? Or how about the time you bought those albums on CD? ... Well now you can buy all that music again on MP3, the digital music format that’s the talk of the 1990s. You’ll get the same songs but in a quality that’s not quite as good as the remastered CDs you bought last year.

What do you mean you’ve already ripped your Beatles CDs onto your iPod? You know that’s against British copyright law, don’t you? It’s very naughty of you but here’s a way you can make up for it: buy those Beatles MP3s today! This could be the last time you get to re-purchase The Beatles back catalogue. It probably won’t be but it could be, and God knows, EMI really needs the money. So go on, buy some Beatles MP3s today. It’s the last time, until next time.

  • Wise Up! This Is Important, insists James Holland at Electric Pig:

It’s fair to say that older Beatles fans have had quite enough opportunities to buy up their back catalogue: from the recent remasters campaign right back to the original vinyl LPs, there is a mountain of Beatles records out there. But there’s something about The Beatles finally arriving in a digital format that matters. It’s a philosophical thing: the point at which digital stores become permanently undeniable – our musical heritage resting in the cloud as well as racks of CDs.

  • It's Kind of Odd to Pay $1.29 for a 23-Second Track, writes Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

If you really want to gripe, here’s something: Apple (and/or the band) doesn’t know how to handle the mini-songs on the second half of “Abbey Road”, and has made the silly decision to sell them as individual tracks.

So if you really want to hear all 23 seconds of “Her Majesty”, but you don’t want to buy the whole album, you’ve got to shell out $1.29. But whatever. Buy the whole album.

I’m sincerely hoping this isn’t the big announcement coming up this morning. Seems like too much fanfare for some new content availability.

It’s also an important collaboration that brings together entertainment and technology companies in the digital age. It means that, whatever their past disputes, big businesses can come together when it serves their mutual interests. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning of a new era of collaboration between rights holders and tech companies, where the consumers will win.

In the past, you could get music on your iPod or iPhone by buying a CD and then ripping the music to your hard drive. Then you could upload the songs to your device. This new deal will put one more nail in the coffin of the CD, as that step is no longer necessary.

In the spirit of two entities working out their differences, the obligatory YouTube clip:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.