If you click on the iTunes music store you can find “Beatles” under artist search. More than 50 albums will pop up, including Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Play the Beatles, but none are the real deal. Fans wishing to download the actual Fab Four in MP3 format have to search peer-to-peer sites like Limewire for unlicensed songs they can listen to free.
But that may be about to change. While details remain to be worked out, Fortune has learned that iTunes is close to a deal to bring the Beatles catalog online. Apple Computer is said to be angling to become the exclusive online music store for the Beatles for a limited window of time.
Other music stores, such as Microsoft’s MSN and Rhapsody, have courted the Beatles over the years to no avail, but it appears Apple is close to getting first dibs on the band’s hits.
When reached by Fortune, an Apple spokesman responded that the company does not comment on “rumor and speculation.” If the deal goes through, it will mark a Nixon-Brezhnev-worthy truce – with the band’s record label, Britain’s EMI Group, serving as a peacemaker – between Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs and Neil Aspinall, the onetime Beatles road manager who is now guardian of the band’s business interests under the rubric Apple Corps.
The 1987 “Revolution” Nike commercial was the first time a Beatles song was used in a TV ad, and the sneaker maker wound up discontinuing the spot after being sued by the Beatles. (Nike thought it had obtained the proper license for the song, only to find itself in the middle of a legal battle between EMI and Apple Corps.)
“The Beatles‘ position is that they don’t sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose, or anything else,” a lawyer for the band told the Associated Press at the time. Notice he didn’t say iPods.