Record companies are usually quick to capitalize on the never-before heard recordings of their biggest artists. So why did Sony drag its feet and hush up the release of these new Bob Dylan rarities? The answer lies in convoluted copyright laws.
Your average Dylan fan could be excused for not knowing about a new European compilation called The Copyright Extension Collection Vol. 1. The Sony Music release is so low-key that it makes the indiest of record labels look like total sell-outs. Only 100 of these four-CD sets even exist, and they've been shipped to a tiny number of stores located in Germany, France, Sweden, and Britain. American buyers can't even download the release. Though it collects Dylan's highly precious unreleased studio outtakes and live recordings from 1962 and 1963, Sony is putting almost no promotion behind the collection. "It wasn't the right time to do it right after he released Tempest," a Sony rep told Rolling Stone's Andy Greene, referring to Dylan's 2012 album. "There are other things we want to do in 2013."
So why did Sony release it at all? Because these Dylan recordings are coming up on their 50th anniversary. And in order to extend European copyright protection on the tunes for another 20 years, Sony has to do something with them. They're just doing the bare minimum to comply with the law's so-called "use it or lose it" provision. The European Commission's website explains that these laws:
... allow performers to get their rights back if the record producer does not market the sound recording during the extended period.
Though Sony says they're only trying to protect their copyright ownership, they've already stoked Dylan collectors into a feeding frenzy. After 45 bids, a copy of the compilation sold for almost $1,500 on eBay today.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.