EMI Feared Extra-Terrestrial Piracy Of Beatles

Today’s post brings together two normally unconnected interests of mine; space exploration and music. This year is the 31st anniversary of the Voyager golden record launch – a disc containing various representations of humankind which was sent off into the cosmos (more as a symbol of hope and adventure than a serious attempt to make contact with alien civilisations). A compilation of music was placed on this disc, and the difficult task of reducing the entire musical output of humanity to one ‘greatest hits’ LP was curated by Carl Sagan…
(from Music Technology)

Wormholes In Copyright Law

Being included on the first record to leave the solar system is certainly an honor, and even if looked at from a purely mercenary marketing point of view, you just can’t buy publicity of such historic import. As such, I imagine that Sagan was quite astounded when EMI refused to allow him to include The Beatles’ song ‘Here Comes The Sun’ on the golden record. It illustrates what a deeply conservative, defensive and unimaginative mindset the music industry had at the time, and why it has been so slow to react to the rapid changes brought about by the era of digital music and P2P file sharing.

In fact, the chances of intelligent extra-terrestrial life discovering the Voyager, decoding the song, duplicating it, travelling to Earth and distributing illegal pirated copies are actually markedly smaller than the chances of the Voyager ever being discovered at all.

Perhaps in an effort to catch up with the times, on February 4th 2008 (yes, that’s last month) the rights holders allowed NASA to beam a broadcast of The Beatles’ song ‘Across The Universe‘ into space.

Voyager's Golden Record

It’s Full Of Stars

On a related note, the legendary science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke died this week, in a year which marks NASA’s 50th anniversary. Clarke is credited with foreseeing the invention of communications satellites, and the geostationary locus they follow is now referred to as the ‘Clarke Orbit’. He is most famous for his 2001: A Space Odyssey novels, but has written many visionary novels and is rightly regarded as one of the most influential writers of all time. Thanks, Arthur…


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