Bob Dylan has made some puzzling moves in his celebrated career, but the compilation that his record label recently released may be as odd as anything he’s ever put out.
The compilation, 50th Anniversary Collection, is a limited-edition, four-CD set that was only released in Europe. It seems to have been designed by the label to exploit a recent change in European copyright law.
The collection is a scrapbook of recordings from the first years of Bob Dylan’s career: unreleased home tapes, live performances from Greenwich Village folk clubs and outtakes from the sessions for his second studio album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
The packaging of the 50th Anniversary Collection is minimal — just four discs, a brown paper cover and a cursory list of the 86 tracks.
Dylan’s record label declined requests to talk about the collection or its unconventional release strategy.
But the subtitle, The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1, speaks for itself.
“Even record executives occasionally stray into honesty,” says James Boyle, a law professor at Duke University. “This is, in fact, a copyright extension collection. That’s what it is.”
Boyle says Dylan’s label appears to be exploiting an obscure but potentially lucrative change in European copyright law.
The European Union recently extended the term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years. But, there’s a catch.
“You actually have to have, at some point, distributed these songs during that initial 50-year period. These were masters that were lying in the vaults,” Boyle says, “and none of them had ever seen the light of day. And so he had to get them out before that 50-year period expired in order to get the extra 20 years.”
I think they may end up with a wee bit more than just 100 copies