Beatles Going Digital, Michael Jackson May Sell Out

Arik Hesseldahl

It looks like The Beatles are getting ready to go digital. Reuters has an interesting story concerning a written statement by Neil Aspinall, who runs Apple Records, the fab four's record label and holding company, saying that the Beatles recordings are the process of being digitally remastered, which would of course be a first step to selling them online. The statement came in a filing with the High Court in London, which has in recent weeks heard arguments from Apple Corps, the record company, and Apple Computer, in a trademarke dispute over the use of the Apple name.

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson, who controls a stake in the company that controls the publishing rights to some 250 Beatles songs may be close to selling out. More on that after the jump.
"I think it would be wrong to offer downloads of the old masters when I am making new masters... It would be better to wait and try to do them both simultaneously so that you then get the publicity of the new masters and the downloading, rather than just doing it ad hoc."

I've been saying for some time that one intriguing outcome in this trademark fight would be a settlement that would have Apple Computer becoming the exclusive online distributor of Beatles songs. How about a special edition iPod with the familiar green apple adorning the clickwheel? Okay maybe thats going a bit far, but if Apple Computer can do such a thing with U2, couldn't it see its way to doing it one better with The Bealtes?

The New York Times reported today that Jackson is nearing a deal under which he could end up selling the song catalog he controls to Sony. I wrote about this on March 29 and theorized about a connection between Apple Corps motivation to extract a huge monetary settlement from Apple Computer. I figured Apple Corps might use the proceeds from a settlement to bid on Jackson's 50% stake in the catalog in the event that Jackson finds himself forced to sell it to get out of debt. Well, he's in pretty deep debt. And it looks like Sony -- Jackson's partner in the venture -- is looking for a way get its hands on Jackson's half.

Apparently the deal calls for Jackson to give Sony an option to buy half of his stake in Sony/ATV. This would leave Sony controlling 75% of the catalog, and Jackson the other 25%. The catalog includes rights to some 4,000 songs written by Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, John Mayer, Cyndi Lauper and Beck -- is worth about $1 billion. In 1985 Jackson paid $47.5 million for the whole thing. Now the half he controls appears to be worth more than ten times that.

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