Apple, Beatles, iTunes: The Long and Winding Road

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The famed bands absence from Apples music service was long considered a glaring omission. Apple Corps, which publishes the Beatles work, had long resisted delivering the Fab Fours work in an online format, preferring a series of CD releases over the past decade. I’m sorry, were you expecting congratulations here? Perhaps the most “unforgettable” element from today’s Beatles-available-on-iTunes announcement was the eyerolling on Wall Street: Apple’s share price was down five points at press time. Nearly a decade after Apple Inc. introduced iTunes, the digital downloading service finally has landed the Beatles. ITunes on Tuesday rolled out the Fab Four’s music for legal downloading for the first time, offering 17 albums encompassing all 13 of the group’s original studio albums, the double “Past Masters” collection of nonalbum tracks, two hits compilations and a box set including everything except the hits collections. On Tuesday, Apple Inc. said its iTunes store will start selling downloads of songs and albums from the group, in an agreement with the Beatles’ recording label, EMI Group Ltd., and its management company, Apple Corps Ltd. Apple’s news release only cites that concert film as an exclusive. “The fact is, this would have been a big deal three years ago,” says James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research . But the Fab Four’s work doesn’t show up on Amazon’s MP3 store , Apple’s main rival in the digital-download business. “Abbey Road,” the group’s 1969 studio album, quickly jumped into iTunes’ ranking of the top 10 hottest-selling albums Tuesday.

The first settlement came in 1981, when Apple Computer paid Apple Corps millions to keep its name, with the promise it would stay away from the music business.

Grooveshark used to offer Beatles songs until they began disappearing from the site through a simple search for “Beatles.” However some forum members have found that unique search terms, like “Beattles,” still draws a few results. We love the Beatles, and it has been painful being at odds with them over these trademarks, Steve Jobs wrote in a February 2007 press release .

Apple has a 75% market share of the digital music market, McQuivey says. Just a year and a half ago, Apple banished DRM entirely from the iTunes Store’s music inventory. “iTunes and Apple Corps missed the revenue stream a long time ago. The songs have been available on numerous torrent sites for years.” What kept the Beatles’ catalog off iTunes for so long was a complicated web of legal entanglements. Tuesday, the Beatles finally ran out of excuses for not letting downloaders give them their money. Is there anybody left online who doesn’t already have all the Beatles MP3s they want? Several of those artists have cited their opposition to iTunes’ breaking up albums into individually downloadable tracks. Those years of legal action doubtlessly made the attorneys rich, but it may have slowed the Beatles arrival on iTunes. Apple is making the bands albums available for $12.99 each, with songs priced at $1.29, in addition to a $149 Beatles Box Set with the albums, mini-documentaries and other materials.

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