The Record
8:54 am
Sat January 12, 2013

Why There Are Only 100 Copies Of The New Bob Dylan Record

Originally published on Sat January 12, 2013 12:47 pm

Bob Dylan has made some puzzling moves in his celebrated career, but the compilation that his record label recently released may be as odd as anything he's ever put out.

The compilation, 50th Anniversary Collection, is a limited-edition, four-CD set that was only released in Europe. It seems to have been designed by the label to exploit a recent change in European copyright law.

The collection is a scrapbook of recordings from the first years of Bob Dylan's career: unreleased home tapes, live performances from Greenwich Village folk clubs and outtakes from the sessions for his second studio album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

The packaging of the 50th Anniversary Collection is minimal — just four discs, a brown paper cover and a cursory list of the 86 tracks.

Dylan's record label declined requests to talk about the collection or its unconventional release strategy.

But the subtitle, The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1, speaks for itself.

"Even record executives occasionally stray into honesty," says James Boyle, a law professor at Duke University. "This is, in fact, a copyright extension collection. That's what it is."

Boyle says Dylan's label appears to be exploiting an obscure but potentially lucrative change in European copyright law.

The European Union recently extended the term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years. But, there's a catch.

"You actually have to have, at some point, distributed these songs during that initial 50-year period. These were masters that were lying in the vaults," Boyle says, "and none of them had ever seen the light of day. And so he had to get them out before that 50-year period expired in order to get the extra 20 years."

Because this material was recorded in 1962 and 1963, the label essentially has to use it or lose it to the public domain.

In Britain, the European Union copyright extension is known as Cliff's Law — named after Sir Cliff Richard, the 1960s-era singer who pushed hard for its passage.

In an interview with the BBC, Richard says it's not fair that artists should lose the right to collect royalties from their records just because those records happen to be 50 years old.

"That's my creative juices," Richard says. "I created it, I helped to arrange it. I helped sometimes to produce it. And you make this record. And then someone takes it away before you're even dead."

But critics say the copyright extension will mainly help record companies and artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, whose recordings might otherwise begin entering the public domain in the next few years.

"The vast majority of musicians won't see a dime," Boyle says. "The evidence was that in fact, the benefits would go to very, very few people — the megastars."

Boyle says the European Union law does include a few provisions that are supposed to help common musicians, too. After 50 years, for example, they can terminate their original contracts with their record labels and get ownership of their recordings back. But Boyle says there's a catch here, too.

"In order for them to be able to exercise this termination, it had to be that the record label hadn't put a new version out within a year of the directive passing," Boyle says. "So we're probably going to see a large number of reissued songs, or aging rockers are gonna be terminating their deals and getting their rights back over their recordings."

Whatever its intentions, Boyle thinks the copyright extension will ultimately end up hurting the public. Dylan fans in Europe might beg to differ, though: If they weren't lucky enough to snatch up one of the 100 physical copies of the discs, they can buy MP3s of the Copyright Extension Collection from Dylan's website.

The rest of us can bid for one of those copies on eBay — where one recently sold for more than $1,000 — or wait for a proper U.S. release.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bob Dylan has made some moves in his epical career that have left a few people puzzled. But the compilation that Mr. Dylan's record label recently released may be as odd as anything that he's ever put out. The label released a limited edition of the four-CD set, and only in Europe. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, the collection seems designed to exploit a recent change in European copyright law.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The collection is a scrapbook of recordings from the first years of Bob Dylan's career - unreleased home tapes, live performances from Greenwich Village folk clubs, and out-takes from the sessions for "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIXED UP CONFUSION")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) I got mixed up confusion, man, and it's a-killing me...

ROSE: The packaging of this 50th anniversary collection is minimal: just four discs, a brown paper cover, and a cursory list of the 86 tracks. Dylan's record label declined requests to talk about the collection, or its unconventional release strategy. But the subtitle, "The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1," speaks for itself.

JAMES BOYLE: Even record executives occasionally stray into honesty. This is in fact a copyright extension collection. That's what it is.

ROSE: James Boyle teaches law at Duke University. He says Dylan's label appears to be exploiting an obscure but potentially lucrative change in European copyright law. The European Union recently extended the term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 years to 70. But, says Boyle, there's a catch.

BOYLE: You actually have to have at some point distributed these songs during that initial 50-year period. And these were masters that were lying in the vaults. And none of them had ever seen the light of day. And so he had to get them out before that 50-year period expired in order to get the extra 20 years.

ROSE: Since this material was recorded in 1962 and '63, the label basically has to use it or lose it, and watch it enter the public domain. In Britain, the EU copyright extension is known as Cliff's Law - after Sir Cliff Richard, the 1960s-era singer who pushed hard for its passage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE YOUNG ONES")

SIR CLIFF RICHARD: (Singing) The young ones, darling, we're the young ones, and young ones shouldn't be afraid...

ROSE: In an interview with the BBC, Richard said it's not fair that artists should lose the right to collect royalties from their records just because those records happen to be 50 years old.

RICHARD: That's my creative juices. I created it, I helped to arrange it. I helped sometimes to produce it. And you make this record. And then someone takes it away before you're even dead.

ROSE: But critics say the copyright extension will mainly help record companies and artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, whose recordings might otherwise begin entering the public domain in the next few years. The vast majority of musicians won't see a dime, says Duke's James Boyle.

BOYLE: The stated goal was a kind of, well, it'll be a kind of pension for old rockers, which is certainly something I could get behind. But the evidence was that in fact, the benefits would go to very, very few people, the megastars. Mr. Dylan will probably do quite well out of it.

ROSE: Boyle says the EU law does include a few provisions that are supposed to help common musicians, too. After 50 years, for example, they can terminate their original contracts with their record labels and get ownership of their recordings back. But Boyle says there's a catch here, too.

BOYLE: In order from them to be able to exercise this termination, it had to be that the record label hadn't put a new version out within a year of the directive passing. So, we're probably going to see a large number of reissued songs, or aging rockers are going to be terminating their deals and getting their rights back over their recordings.

ROSE: Whatever its intentions, Boyle thinks the copyright extension will ultimately wind up hurting the public, though Bob Dylan fans in Europe might beg to differ. They can buy MP3s of the "Copyright Extension Collection" from Dylan's website and so would lucky European collectors who snatched up 100 physical copies of the discs. The rest of us can bid for one of those copies on eBay, where one recently sold for more than $1,000, or wait for a proper US release. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY JUST ALLOW ME ONE MORE CHANCE")

DYLAN: (Singing) Just allow me just one more chance...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.