A collection of at least 75 rare performances by the Rolling Stones appeared on YouTube on New Year’s Eve, then vanished just a day later. abkco music & records, which owns the rights to the band’s 1960s catalog, uploaded them intentionally as a way to extend their hold on the recordings’ copyrights in Europe.
All the recordings turned 50 years old in 2019. They were slated to become public domain in the EU unless they were published in some form before the end of the year.
The videos were uploaded to a YouTube account called 69rstrax. They were mostly live concerts and alternate versions of songs from the let it bleed and sticky fingers albums, all recorded in 1969. Variety says the videos bore’official copyright language’.
In the EU, sound recording copyrights are protected for 50 years. That protection can be extended to 70 years under a’use it or lose it’ clause.
If a copyright owner does n’t do anything with a recording in that 50-year window, then it goes to the public domain.
Performers can issue a notice of termination if the label has n’t done anything with their material in that 50-year time frame. The copyright owner has a year to exploit the material in order to retain and extend the copyright.
The directive’s language is loose, with no guidelines for what’available’ means, or how many copies of a recording constitutes’sufficient quantity’. For example, Sony Music pressed 100 CDs with rare Bob Dylan recordings and offered limited access to online buyers in France and Germany.
In December of 2016, 30 recordings by the Rolling Stones were uploaded to a strange YouTube account. The channel had no previous uploads, and the videos were switched to private mode shortly after being published.
There’s no concrete evidence that links abkco directly to these YouTube accounts. The videos were made private instead of removed – indicating no takedown notices were issued.
abkco did intentionally muck up the audio files, upload them to a YouTube account, and only had them visible for a day. Rosen says it’s questionable whether that meets the directive’s threshold of releasing the recordings to the public.
Youtube is a hotbed for arguments over copyright infringement in the United States. It’s potentially being used as a platform to establish copyright in other parts of the world.