Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Last weekend I watched kids and parents performing Beatles tunes on an outdoor stage on the football field of our local elementary school. As I listened to them playing, I found myself in a reverie in which I imagined the wildest possible thought experient: what will the English-speaking world be like once the Beatle's music is out of copyright? After all, the Beatles themselves benefited from free auditory culture delivered in family living rooms and public parks with brass bands.

I know, I may well be much older than sixty-four by the time that it actually happens, but it's an captivating daydream nonetheless. Will people sing Beatles songs the way that they now sing traditional Christmas carols? Or will licensed popular music be used for proprietary advertising for so long that the great anthems of the sixties will sound like little more than commercial jingles?

It seems a shame. There have been so many loyal customers over the year, who have already paid for the Beatles' products. The classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, which came out exactly forty years ago, was the very first record that I ever bought with my own money. And when I began to plunk out tunes on the guitar, the first book of sheet money I spent my allowance on was a collection of the Beatles' greatest hits.

Unfortunately, the recent New Yorker profile of Paul McCartney didn't give me much hope, despite his publicists interest in viral marketing and online give-aways. I suppose it doesn't matter. McCartney doesn't own the rights to his own music from the British Invasion era, and couldn't even consent to have it on the Voyager spacecraft when the others in the Fab Four were still alive and willing. Like "Happy Birthday to You," which is still tied up in copyright claims over a century after its composition, the time of a public domain Beatles archive may never actually arrive.

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