Site, sued by EMI in 2009, finds a Beatles workaround

In an ironic twist to a bitter legal dispute, Bluebeat.com — the website sued by EMI Music and shuttered in November after it offered digital downloads of tracks by the Beatles for 25¢ apiece — is back up on the Internet, with the Fab Four in tow.

However, the site is no longer offering music by the Beatles and other disputed EMI acts for sale or unlimited streaming. Instead, Bluebeat has been reconfigured as a hive of user-programmed radio stations, and registered Web DJs have the ability to deploy songs by the Beatles made available on the site as part of playlists posted there.

Under federal laws governing Internet broadcasting, Bluebeat — as the holder of a compulsory webcasting license — is perfectly legit.

Bluebeat, its Santa Cruz, Calif.-based parent Media Rights Technologies and company CEO Hank Risan were sued by EMI’s labels in late October. The music company accused the defendants of blatant acts of music piracy.

EMI and the Beatles’ company Apple Corps have never authorized digital sale or unlimited streaming of the band’s music, which was re-released in highly publicized, bestselling remastered stereo and mono CD editions in September. Further- more, Bluebeat’s price for the Beatles’ songs was far below the industry standard of 99¢-$1.25 per digital download.

U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter found no merit in Risan’s argument and issued a preliminary injunction against the Bluebeat defendants on Nov. 18.

However, according to a source familiar with the case, Bluebeat applied for a compulsory webcasting license immediately following the ruling. Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a copyright holder must allow its music to be used by license holders on Web stations for a set fee.

Noting the disputed EMI music is no longer available for download or streaming, Bluebeat attorney Archie Robinson said, “Bluebeat has a statutory license as a webcaster, and is practicing its rights lawfully as such … and accounting for all royalties for each song played, of course.”

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