Beatles vs. the Web: EMI sues music pirates, unveils Fab Four on USB drive

And so it goes on: the interminable wait for a deal that would make the Beatles music available on the Web. Instead, Apple Corps. Ltd., which manages the Beatles' legacy, and EMI, the band's record label, have announced the release of a limited-edition USB flash drive preloaded with Beatles songs for $280, just in time for the holidays.

Call it Beatles on a stick.

Separately, EMI has filed a lawsuit against BlueBeat.com, a heretofore obscure website, claiming it has been illegally selling songs by the Fab Four. The label has accused BlueBeat of "shocking," "willful," and "overtly defiant" conduct, and accuses it of participating in one of the largest piracy operations on the internet. BlueBeat has denied the charge by saying it is protected by its "psycho-acoustic simulation" -- whatever that is.
"Defendants are engaged in music piracy of the most blatant and harmful kind," EMI charged in the lawsuit. "Plaintiffs bring this action to put an immediate stop to the massive and knowing infringement of their copyrighted pre-1972 sound recordings by Defendants, owners and operators of the internet website www.bluebeat.com (the 'BlueBeat Website')."

Defense is Legal 'Psycho'-Babble

The suit names Hank Risan, of Santa Cruz, Calif., as the mastermind of the piracy plot. As of Thursday morning, the Beatles' songs remained on the website. In fact, BlueBeat has responded with a unique defense -- no joke, "psycho-acoustic simulation" -- and says it is protected by 17 U.S.C. § 114(b).

BlueBeat says that, "Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on the merits because Defendants' website markets and sells an entirely different sound recording than that copyrighted by Plaintiffs." The website says it "independently developed [its] own original sounds" that consist of "entirely different sound recording[s]" through a technical process it calls "psycho-acoustic simulation."

Copyright experts aren't buying it.

"Unless BlueBeat can come up with some better arguments than this (and if it had better arguments, I'm sure it would have already made them), it is not long for this world," wrote Ben Sheffner, a digital copyright expert currently employed by NBC Universal. "And we can all go back to speculating when The Beatles will be available on iTunes."

In the lawsuit, EMI says it is "entitled" to $150,000 "for each copyright infringed," would theoretically could add up to billions of dollars, depending on how many copies of the Beatles songs BlueBeat has sold.

Buy the Beatles Digitally and Legally

But EMI is not just filing lawsuits. It is ramping up for the holidays with the Fab Five on a digital stick.

The label is selling 30,000 16 GB Apple-shaped USB drives available, each containing 14 albums in FLAC format -- better-than-CD quality -- and high-quality MP3. Also included are 13 short films about the albums, art, photos and expanded liner notes. The USB drives load automatically on Macs and PCs and will be released Dec. 8, just in time for the holidays.

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