Classic Beatles Concert Became Focus of Copyright Battle

More than half a century after the Beatles played their first concert on their tour of America, live footage of the Fab Four’s performance and the well-loved tracks they played became the focus of a High Court copyright dispute.

The Beatles played 12 songs at the Coliseum in Washington DC in February 1964 and their performance was videotaped for exhibition at cinemas and theatres across America. In 2009, a master tape of the video had come into the hands of a production company which used it as the basis for a documentary.

The international music publishing group which owned UK and US copyrights in respect of eight of the tracks played objected when the documentary was promoted on a website and by means of a trailer. It swiftly launched proceedings and the documentary was never in fact aired.

Ruling in favour of the publishing group, the Court found that it had not licensed the production company’s use of the eight songs. It noted that the prestige and history of Beatles songs meant that licences to use them changed hands for six-figure sums. The inclusion of the tracks in the documentary was an act of infringement which did not constitute a fair use of copyright material and which was likely to harm the publishing group’s economic interests.