Successful artists often live in fear of loosing income as a result of their work falling into the public domain, a prospect which The Rolling Stones were staring down the barrel of, until the emergence of a clever YouTube strategy which may have bought them an additional twenty years.
Pubic Domain is a concept that no artist wants to face. On one hand, if an artist is popular enough that he or she has to worry about their works being freely available to the public then they’ve had a great career. On the other hand, it also means that they’re no longer able to make money from those works. There were a large number of Rolling Stones performances that were slated to reach the public domain in the European Union as they reached their 50th birthday, but an interesting YouTube strategy apparently by ABKCO Music & Records, which administers the rights to the band’s 1960s catalog, may have averted that from happening.
75 rare performances by the band briefly appeared on a brand-new YouTube account called 69rstrax on New Year’s Eve, then disappeared the next day.
Most of these were live concerts and alternate versions of songs from the Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers albums recorded in 1969. But the songs were expertly mangled with noise to make them unlistenable, and therefore unable to be pirated.
EU copyright contains a “use it or lose it” clause, so by briefly releasing the songs right before the end being 50 years old, copyright was able to be extended for another 20 years.
But maybe not, as many legal authorities feel that the ploy might not work. It’s not clear whether the tracks were issued by ABKCO, or if a single day exposure on a streaming network actually reaches the legal requirement for copyright extension.
The recordings had never been released as physical product or appeared on a streaming network before, and although this could have been the work of a rogue fan, but it appears that ABKCO clearly had reason to do this as it meant a possible additional 20 years of new income from previously non-revenue-generating tracks.
Now it’s for the EU copyright court to decide if the recordings are public domain or not.