It appears that audacious online retailer BlueBeat won't be selling Beatles tunes anytime soon. The little-known website had been hawking Fab Four tracks for 25 cents apiece until a federal court in Los Angeles slapped the site with a temporary restraining order this week.
Apple Corps Ltd., the Beatles' holding company, has yet to allow any online music service to carry the legendary band's music (although it recently announced release of the catalog on a USB drive.) Capitol Records, the American branch of EMI, the Beatles' music label, has filed a copyright infringement suit against BlueBeat. A November 20 hearing is scheduled.
So what have we learned from this bizarre little incident? Here are three lessons:
Some Judges Just Don't Get "Psychoacoustic Simulation"
BlueBeat chief executive Hank Risan claims that the Beatles tunes available on his site don't violate copyright law because they're recreated on computer via a process called, um, psychoacoustic simulation. In other words, although John Lennon's voice on the BlueBeat version of "Help!" may sound identical to that of the original recording -- and while the entire band's performance is, well, the same -- it's really just an amazing simulation. Sadly for BlueBeat, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter didn't buy this argument. That's a shame. I had called dibs on the Abba catalog.
Wacky Publicity Stunts Work
Let's say you're a little-known music grunion swimming in a sea of leviathans like Amazon and iTunes. What's the fastest way to make a name for yourself? A week's worth of media glare is a good start.
There's little doubt the Beatles brouhaha brought a lot of traffic to BlueBeat, although the site was down the last time I checked. Sure, the publicity was negative. But to paraphrase Hollywood, just spell my URL right. Perhaps BlueBeat's management truly believes it wasn't flaunting copyright law, but the cynic in me says otherwise.
Journalists Love Beatles Puns
So many song titles, so little time! Few writers or editors could resist the temptation. Some prominent examples this week: "BlueBeat gets back to where it once belonged" (paidContent.org); "Judge to BlueBeat: You Can't Do That" (MediaPost); "All You Need Is Legal Permission" (New York Times). Want more? How about: "EMI: You Never Give Me Your Money;" "BlueBeat: We Can Work It Out;" and "Risan: Why My Psychoacoustic Guitar Gently Weeps."
Roll over Beethoven, indeed.