Beatles back catalogue online for free: In Norwegian, for one month only

The Beatles‘ back catalogue has finally gone online – in possibly the most contrived fashion imaginable. Norwegian broadcaster NRK struck a deal with the country’s music rights agency Tono to issue all 212 tracks as free podcast episodes through January only, accompanying its Daily Beatles radio series. You’ll have to subscribe to the cast and listen to a couple of minutes of Norwegian commentary unpicking the lyrics’ deeper meaning before playing the track.

Of course, this is by no means the deal that unlocks the door to what could be the biggest digital music pay day yet. One by one, the roadblocks to online Beatles retail have been overcome (individual band members already sell digitally and copyright disputes their Apple Corps company had with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and EMI were settled last year). But, despite Paul MacCartney saying it was “primed, ready to go” in 2008, he admitted in November that bringing Beatles to iTunes and others was again stalled between Apple Corps and EMI.

The digital licensing issue is clearly easing – Apple Corp is working with MTV games studio Harmonix to make a Rock Band-esque music game this year – but NRK’s podcast offering is not so much a breakthrough as a sneaky workaround. The broadcaster already aired its Daily Beatles series last year with speech only and has now made a crafty discovery: “The podcasts are available because they contain less then 70% music – a requirement outlined under the deal,” says.

Updated: This bird has fown: Norwegian radio pulls Beatles tracks on legal slip-up

We knew it was too crafty to be true – Norwegian public radio network NRK, which on Monday began giving away The Beatles’ entire back catalogue as podcast downloads, last night pulled the endeavour after realising the whole thing is probably illegal.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) labels’ umbrella told paidContent:UK: “IFPI Norway entered into an agreement on behalf of all its members with NRK in April 2008 which allows the broadcaster to podcast programmes that are less than 70 percent music for four weeks after they are originally broadcast. These six-minute programmes were broadcast in 2007, so didn’t come under that agreement. The agreement was for 2008 and is due to be renewed in 2009, although it hasn’t been yet. EMI retains the rights to license The Beatles recordings and IFPI was acting on behalf of its members in this case.”

NRK technology adviser Oyvind Solstad (via PA): “We had a very good and open agreement with the Norwegian composers and people forgot that we need to have the same agreement with the record companies. We could have aired the whole thing and then podcast it, but I think the record company would have tried to stop it anyway; there’s something in the agreement where they can exclude certain artists.”

Since The Beatles’ Apple Corps holding company is highly litigious, having previous disputes with both EMI and the other Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), it was hardly worth NRK persisting. The website was updated thusly last night: “Due to terms still being under negotiation, our own lawyers have advised us to pull back the podcasts containing The Beatles music.” Thus, the long, and increasingly tiresome, wait for The Fab Four to go online continues…

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