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Bob Dylan's record label dodges copyright law with super limited release of rare songs

Bob Dylan's record label dodges copyright law with super limited release of rare songs


Available in just 100 copies, Sony Music's box set exploits Europe's 'use it or lose' it provision to avoid the public domain

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bob dylan (wikimedia commons)
bob dylan (wikimedia commons)

There's a new Bob Dylan box set on the market, but chances are you won't be able to find it. That's because Dylan's label, Sony Music, has released just 100 copies of the four-CD set, as part of an attempt to circumvent European copyright law.

Dylan's 50th Anniversary Collection box set includes 86 unreleased tracks, including studio outtakes and live recordings from between 1962 and 1963. As Rolling Stone reports, these songs were slated to enter the European public domain this year, but they'll now remain under copyright thanks to a unique provision in the EU's copyright laws. In 2011, the EU extended its copyright term from 50 to 70 years, but this change won't go into effect until 2014. This extension, moreover, only applies to works that have been published during the 50 years after their release, which is why Sony decided to rush this collection to market around Christmas — just before the tracks' 50-year window was about to expire.

"This isn't a scheme to make money."

This so-called "use it or lose it" provision is at the core of Sony's strategy, and the label has made no secret of it; the box set's subtitle, The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol 1, makes this intent more than clear. Thus far, the company has released just 100 physical copies to select stores in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, driving up demand in secondary markets such as eBay, where bids have exceeded $1,000. (The collection is available for download from Dylan's site, though only to customers based in France and Germany.)

But sources at Sony Music tell Rolling Stone that the launch "isn't a scheme to make money," adding that the label has plans to use these tracks at a later date. "The whole point of copyrighting this stuff," one source explained, "is that we intend to do something with it at some point in the future."