“Love Me Do” Is Now In the Public Domain In Britain

Some would call it a loophole, others the end of an already-generous protection period.

But as of right now, the recording of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” has fallen into public domain in Britain, thanks to a release date of 1962.  This also applies to the B-side, “P.S. I Love You”.

It’s simple math: both recordings are more than 50 years old, which means they are no longer protected by existing British copyright law (the underlying compositions, on the other hand, remain protected). Here’s a read of that law, according to the UK Intellectual Property Office.

“Currently, if a work is recorded then copyright in this sound recording lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made or, if published in this time, 50 years from the end of the year of publication.”

Technically, that puts the expiration at December 31st, 2012, with lots more coming December 31st, 2013.  Indeed, “Love Me Do” merely represents the first of a long string of early classics from the Beatles, Stones, and a myriad of other revered groups.

So what happens next?  Thankfully for the narrow group of stakeholders of those recordings, the European Union enacted a directive in September of 2011 calling for the extension of recordings to 70 years (it’s 95 years in the US).  Now, the intra-EU bureaucracy is churning towards enactment, with individual countries like the UK approving and codifying the extension.

The question is whether European society actually benefits from this extension, or whether this is a complicated form of charity for record labels and a tiny number of older musicians.  “The income from copyright remuneration is important for performers, as they often do not have other regular salaried income,” the EU rationalized after passing the initiative.  Critics note that a large amount of the money will flow back to entrenched labels. The EU continues…

“The extended term will also benefit record producers who will generate additional revenue from the sale of records in shops and on the internet.”

Whether “Love Me Do” and similarly-situated songs get grandfathered into that extension is more than academic.  But that’s the thing about loopholes: right now, companies well-tuned to releasing out-of-copyright masters are already pouncing on this juicy opportunity.  CMU has found at least two labels: Digital Remasterings and Pristine Classical, both of whom are simply following the letter of the law.

But in case of Pristine, this is a move driven more by protest than profit: the company feels that drawn-out recording protections are hurting their ability to re-release dusty symphonic performances, and harming broader society as a result.

33 Responses

  1. pinkasimov

    Déjà ?! C’est si vieux que ça ? Et nous aussi du coup on est dans le domaine public ?? Ah Ben merde alors !

  2. Visitor

    “Love Me Do” Is Now In the Public Domain…
    Nope, melody and lyrics are protected until 70 years from Paul McCartney’s death…

    • Visitor

      Double underline this comment — song copyrights are totally separate from master recording copyrights! Very sloppy reporting when ANYONE overlooks that fact.

      • Visitor

        The headline made me fantasize a bit, though…
        What IF the period were reduced to 50 years?
        I’m a firm believer in the protection of Intellectual Property, but I think half a century could be a decent compromise.

    • Sang-froid

      Honestly did you read the article? Because I read this:
      “Currently, if a work is recorded then copyright in this sound recording lasts for 50 years”

      • paul

        Love the passion, but I’m going to have to agree with @sangfroid on this one. It says recording about 17 times.


        • Visitor

          “I’m going to have to agree with @sangfroid on this one.”

          Sure you do, but that doesn’t make it right.

          What do you think when you see the headline “LOVE ME DO” IS NOW IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN?


          • paul

            Copyright is overly complicated and confusing, and this discussion proves it. The article expands and offers more details upon the title, which is factually correct.

            Let me put it another way. If the title was, ‘Man Burned In Fire,’ would you protest if it turned out that just his right arm was burned, and not his entire body?

            What if there was an advanced cream that could help this person heal his injury completely after a year? Would you protest in comments over that too?


          • Visitor

            “Let me put it another way. If the title was, ‘Man Burned In Fire,’ would you protest if it turned out that just his right arm was burned, and not his entire body?”

            Oh please, you can do better than that. 🙂

          • dangude

            Copyright can be confusing but it need not be. It might help to clear some confusion whenever possible. I know that many politicians, lawyers and judges could use some educatin’

            The article could have briefly explained the difference between copyright in the sound recording and the underlying work. (or at least a link to somewhere else that briefly expains the details.)

            I would like to think that the majority of DMN readers know the difference between copyright in the sound recording and copyright in the song, however you know what happens when you assume.

          • Visitor

            “But it IS in the public domain!”

            No, Love Me Do probably won’t be Public Domain in this century, and you really shouldn’t say that it is. Somebody might believe you and borrow a couple of phrases.

            I’m sure I don’t have to explain why that would be a pretty expensive mistake…

          • for now

            Yes the sound recording may be in the public domain in the UK.

            That may allow you to perform the recording w/o paying the rights holder in the sound recording, but you will still have to license the underlying song.

      • Visitor

        That’s not what the headline says.

        It really had my hopes up there for a sec…

    • dajhilton

      Yes, song and lyrics will be protected for many years more; plus – more importantly for this article – the right to authorise derviative works (such as remixes and mash-ups) continues for just as long as the song right.

  3. Copyright V Publishing

    It seems like after all the comments people are still confused! So…

    “Copyright” in music refers to the sound recording.

    “Publishing” refers to the rights to the SONGWRITING ELEMENTS, or the written song.

    So in this case the SOUND RECORDING is now (technically for the moment) in the PUBLIC DOMAIN… but the song itself is not.

    So the issues are: Folks releasing the recording without permission, folks sampling the recording without permission. Of course this is just in the UK, so someone who sampled Love Me Do would only be able to release it in the UK, not in say the USA (I guess).

    Do I have this right, Paul?

    • Visitor

      “so someone who sampled Love Me Do would only be able to release it in the UK”

      Since Love Me Do is not in the Public Domain in the UK or anywhere else in the world, nobody can sample the song and release it anywhere — except for soundbites so short that they don’t contain any copyrighted content.

      This means that for any practical sampling purposes, almost everything is as it used to be:

      Where you legally could get away with copying a single drum hit from the recording last year, you can probably now get away with sampling a short, non-copyrighted drum sequence, or separate guitar chords — as long as they don’t contain any melodic material and/or sung lyrics. But this is where the lawyers step in.

      And most important:

      You still can’t use any melodic or lyric part of Love Me Do in a new song without clearing the thing first and paying fees/royalties…

      • Harrison

        Wrong. This is in the public domain on the recording side and in cases where a compulsory publishing license exists, you are good to go! (look at the labels mentioned above)


        • Visitor

          I’m not sure what you think is wrong… a compulsory license is not relevant here.

          Again, you can’t use any melodic or lyrical part of Love Me Do in a new song…

          • Harrison

            In a new song, sure, because that involves publishing rights. Again it depends on the usage, in many cases you are good to go — just look at those labels above releasing it.


      • Visitor

        The original sound recording of “love me do” is now in the public domain in the uk.

        anyone can sample any part of the recording without agreement from or payment to the owner of the copyright in the sound recording.

        the same does not apply to the copyright in the song, which is not in the public domain – agreement must be sought from and royalties paid to the publisher or songwriter if part of the song is used in another recording

        • Visitor

          “anyone can sample any part of the recording without agreement from or payment to the owner of the copyright in the sound recording”

          Certainly — but you can not sample any part that contains melodic and/or lyric material and use it in a new song without paying the owner of the melody and/or lyrics.

    • dangude

      “Copyright” in music refers to the sound recording.

      That is incorrect and ironically leads to more confusion.

      Music and sound recording are two different works and are two different copyrights.

      For example the copyright in the music contained in Beethoven’s 9th symphony have expired. However, anyone can perform and record a new sound recording of the 9th symphony and claim copyright in the new sound recording not the music.

      An author can create a song (lyrics and music), or a sound recording or both.

    • paul

      @Copyright V Publishing

      Almost. A song copyright essentially contains two components: the recording itself and the publishing (lyrics, notes). Of course, the two go together, but what we’re talking about here is the recording part. And the laws and statutes surrounding these different parts are often separate and inconsistent.

      So, the publishing side must be licensed or paid for still in this situation, and was undoubtedly a consideration for the re-release labels already putting their own duplicates into the marketplace. But they do not have to pay the previous owners of the recording copyright, as the 50 year term has lapsed on the recording.

      Let me give you a totally separate example here. In the US, broadcast radio stations pay royalties for the publishing side, but do not pay for the recording copyrights. That’s because of various loopholes and litigatory dealmaking, but it highlights that there are separate licenses applied to each one (even though, again, they are connected).

      Back to “Love Me Do,” as alluded to in many of the other comments, licensing around publishing remains sticky. So, it really depends on the usage as to whether a company can safely release this as the publishing portion is not under public domain.

      Hope that helps.


  4. Reality

    Yes, it’s PD

    BUT no aggregator will touch it with a ‘barge pole’ (UK Phrase, meaning there won’t allow it)

    And iTunes DEFINITELY won’t take it from anyone other than EMI.

    • Visitor

      It’s not that complicated.

      Here’s the rule of thumb:

      Copyrighted works are protected during Author’s life + 70 years.

      That’s true for most countries, and all you really need to know.

      An exception is Work For Hire. Check local legislation if you want to use music written for movies, or similar.

      Recording rights are relevant for publishers, but rarely for musicians, writers, composers, producers or anyone else.