Friday, 5 March 2010

You Never Give Me Your Money

A quick post today (although I’ve opened posts with that before and had to go back and delete it 600 words later) prompted by an edit I had to make to the previous one last night. I popped into the blog for no real reason other than I was delaying getting down to work (I told myself I was checking for comments, but that wasn’t true because I get email notifications when comments are posted) and discovered that the YouTube clip of ‘All My Loving’ on The Ed Sullivan Show had vanished due to a copyright claim. There are a couple of other copies of this on YouTube, but one has rubbish sound and the other a terrible picture, and besides there seemed a fair chance that the copyright holder would ask for them to be taken down too. To my considerable delight, I found this instead, which I post again because it is FULLY AWESOME. Great work from 8-year-old Jordan and his dad.

I was slightly taken aback to find the original video had gone down, because there’s a hell of a lot of Beatles on YouTube and nobody seems to mind. Readers of earlier posts will know that vast chunks of the group’s discography has been posted in audio form, and you can watch pretty much all their videos and major television appearances, from Around The Beatles through Shea Stadium to the Budokan Hall. The copyright claim on the Ed Sullivan clip hadn’t come from Apple or EMI, and presumably came from the rights holders to the original shows. That’s actually characteristic of Apple, who are remarkably non-litigious over Beatles stuff considering how much financial clout they must have.

A lot of people probably think the opposite is true, because there have been some high-profile cases where someone has been prevented from using Beatles material – The Grey Album, the excellent mash-up of the ‘White’ album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album, is the obvious example. However, that’s the only area where The Beatles have clamped down on things: original Beatles recordings are kept the exclusive preserve of Beatles albums. You can’t buy commercial compilations with their tracks on and you’ll never hear them sampled, with a few rare exceptions (as producer of Withnail & I, George Harrison permitted the inclusion of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on the soundtrack album, whilst his son Dhani recently allowed The Wu-Tang Clan to sample the same track).

In all other things, they seem to take a light touch. Most notably, I don’t think they’ve ever sued anyone for ripping off their songs – and god knows they’ve been ripped off a lot. ‘Start!’ by The Jam is probably the most blatant example.

I’d be interested to know whether the lack of action is because they just can’t be arsed, or whether it was a conscious decision. They were certainly never afraid to nick ideas from their peers back in the day, and Lennon and Harrison both had personal experience of legal action (over ‘Come Together and ‘My Sweet Lord’). Do they leave it alone because influence and ‘borrowing’ were strong parts of their own songwriting process, and it would be hypocritical of them to say ‘Wait a minute, The Coral, this “Pass It On” song of yours bears more than a passing resemblance to the mediocre Harrison composition “You Like Me Too Much” off side two of Help!’ I’d like to think so.


  1. The songwriting is slightly different, as they don't actually own the rights for that (at least the Lennon/McCartney stuff, and Harrison pre-68), Sony do. Which is why, for example, Neil Innes was sued for the Rutles songs (even though none are actually ripped off except Get Up And Go), even though Innes was a friend of the band (Lennon actually advised him not to put Get Up And Go on the soundtrack album as it might cause him legal problems, and Harrison appeared in the film).

  2. That's a good point, although surely the author of a song can also initiate legal action? It's more likely to be the publisher, but the author still earns royalties even if they no longer own the publishing and can claim to have lost out, therefore there are grounds for a lawsuit. I don't pretend to know the legal situation, but surely it's not essential that the publisher is on board.