Michael Jackson's company denies Beatles coming to iTunes

The company that owns the rights to a vast majority of the Beatles music questions reports that the Fab Four have cut a deal with fab Steve Jobs.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
4 min read

The company that owns the rights to a vast majority of The Beatles music catalog has questioned reports that the Fab Four have cut a deal with Steve Jobs.

Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the joint venture owned by Sony and singer Michael Jackson, has thrown cold water on newspaper stories out of London that The Beatles catalog would soon be available on iTunes. A spokeswoman for Sony/ATV Music Publishing told CNET News.com that the reports are "untrue."

Sony/ATV is a pretty good source. While EMI Group owns the recording rights to The Beatles catalog, Sony and Jackson own the rights to the vast majority of the catalog's publishing rights. Had a deal been cut, Sony/ATV would "absolutely be informed," the Sony/ATV spokeswoman said.

The Beatles' official Web site Apple Corps

Stories about the Fab Four heading to iTunes crop up every few months, it seems, and rumors and unconfirmed reports have been circulating for years. This time, the story appeared to have legs as it was reported by three large British newspapers. They all cited unnamed sources.

Under media scrutiny, the stories began showing cracks on Sunday. One of the newspapers reported that Apple was willing to pay the Beatles about $600 million. The blog Silicon Alley Insider noted that Apple, which grosses about 33 cents for every song sale, would have to sell 1.8 billion Beatles songs to break even.

A high-level music industry source said an agreement between The Beatles and Apple could still get inked in 2008. They emphasized, however, that the British papers were wrong to say the deal was finalized.

Representatives for EMI and Apple declined to comment for the story.

Beatles-iTunes partnership would make sense
One has to wonder why these rumors and unconfirmed reports continue to crop up. Is it a case of wishful thinking on the part of Beatles fans or Apple?

The availability of The Beatles, the best-selling band of all time, on iTunes would send the most dramatic signal to date that digital downloads are an integral part of mainstream music, said Susan Kevorkian, a music analyst with research group IDC.

"It's important for iTunes and online music services in general because it legitimizes IP-based music services," Kevorkian said. "It also points to the fact that digital music services are maturing when important groups that have been high-profile holdouts come onboard."

In the last several years, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica--artists who once spurned Internet sales of their music--reversed themselves and embraced iTunes.

Earlier Monday, Chris Castle, a music lawyer and former record label executive predicted that a Web-based Beatlemania would be big for iTunes and Beatles fans alike.

He said The Beatles could release formerly unreleased music "that they might have lying around," and the offering could also include some kind of video element. Even though The Beatles broke up nearly 40 years ago, Castle said Apple Corps, the band's media company, would find a way to "dress up the offering" so that it would create excitement even among longtime Beatles fans.

Jeff Jones, the new head of Apple Corps, "is known as a catalog genius," Castle said. "If there is anybody that can figure out how to make this work it's him. I would expect to see some pleasant surprises from Jeff."

Castle said that what fans likely won't find with a Beatles offering on iTunes is a discount.

"This is a band that has sold music at premium prices for four decades," Castle said. "They've never been discounted. I would be shocked to see any competition on price. Think about it. The Beatles have kept (their brand) precious and popular for a long time. They've done this by knowing how to treat their fans and knowing what didn't work for them."

The Beatles were unlikely candidates to join iTunes. Apple Corps had a series of trademark disputes with Apple Inc. going back to 1976 when Beatle guitarist George Harrison saw an ad for the then Apple Computer. The band thought the new company had infringed on their trademark and sued. The case was settled out of court.

There were other legal skirmishes along the way but last year, Paul McCartney told reporters in Great Britain that he thought a deal with Apple CEO Steve Jobs was close to being finalized.

If and when The Beatles arrive at iTunes, there'll be plenty of people who will ask, "Why all the fuss?" The music has been available for free on peer-to-peer sites for years.

According to Castle, The Beatles were an unprecedented combination of talent and timing, and even after all this time, still possess an enormous following of people who will be willing to pay.

"You had the musical genius, business genius, and extraordinary popularity that crossed all genres and formats," Castle said. "You've never had that before or since."

Music graph
In this ranking of top-selling music acts of all time, Madonna and Barbara Streisand were tied for eighth place.