Mystery of Rolling Stones tracks posted briefly on YouTube

The Rolling Stones play Hyde Park, London, July 1969. Photograph: David Newell Smith/Observe

From Alex Hern at the Guardian

Vintage recordings may have been published in attempt to extend copyright protection

A mysterious YouTube account that posted, then hid, a collection of 75 rare and unpublished Rolling Stones recordings may have been a canny attempt to avoid EU copyright laws and keep the tracks out of the public domain on the 50th anniversary of their creation.

Shortly before midnight on 31 December, the YouTube account 69RSTRAX posted a collection of recordings including studio out-takes and live performances to its public page on the video-sharing site, with no commentary or explanation. Hours later, on 1 January, again with no warning, the account made all the videos private.

69RSTRAX only joined YouTube on 29 December, and offers no clues as to its identity – save a YouTube-mandated email address, which directs business enquiries to ABKCO, a music publishing company that owns the rights to a substantial chunk of early Rolling Stones recordings.

According to Variety magazine, which first reported the brief publication, the explanation could lie in the European Union’s copyright directive. Under EU law, sound recordings are covered by copyright for the first 50 calendar years after they were made – unless they have been “lawfully communicated to the public”, in which case the copyright term extends a further 20 years.

At the end of 2019, then, ABKCO would have faced a “use it or lose it” conundrum: if it did not publish the tracks it held, it would find it difficult to monetise them in the future, as the copyright for the recordings (though not the compositions) would lapse.

Some publishers, faced with similar issues, have released collections of recordings – of interest to super-fans only – such as the Beatles’ 2013 album Bootleg Recordings 1963. Others, perhaps less eager to share early, unfinished versions of songs with the world, have pushed what it means to “publish” tracks: a Bob Dylan compilation, literally published as “The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1”, was also released in 2013 in an edition of 100, and only sold in Europe.

But this would be the first time a label has taken such a minimalist approach to publication. Even while the Stones tracks were available on YouTube, they were reportedly tampered with to make them less appealing to fans who might rip them and share them elsewhere. “The rarest recordings – ie the ones not previously available on bootlegs – have a dial-tone-like sound as loud as the music,” reported Variety’s Jem Aswad, making them “a truly miserable listening experience”.

It remains unclear whether a publication of a single day, on one internet video platform, will be enough to satisfy European judges that the tracks were indeed “lawfully communicated to the public”.

ABKCO declined to comment.

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