Following numerous reports of a £200m deal that would finally see The Beatles' back catalogue made available for download on Apple's iTunes, it appears that no such deal is actually on the cards after all.

The Daily Mail broke the story over the weekend, claiming that Sir Paul had “sanctioned” the release. This was then picked up by hundreds of internet news, music and fan sites.

However, Sony/ATV – the joint Sony/Michael Jackson-owned venture that has an integral stake in The Beatles’ back catalogue – has since said that no deal has been done. Apple has also moved to quash the rumour, albeit with a firm ‘no comment’.

Rumours resurfacing

This is hardly the first time rumours of this nature have surfaced. And as on previous occasions, the story appears to have been allowed to gather pace this time round by newspaper and website editors eager to generate attention-grabbing headlines.

Although it’s nigh on impossible to point to one all-important reason why The Beatles' back catalogue has not yet been put up for legal download, a large part of the delay could be attributed to the inordinate amount of contract, copyright and ownership bungling that’s gone on since 1962 when The Beatles penned their first contract.

The history behind who owns The Beatles’ songs is long and complicated. Suffice to say that since the inception of Northern Songs in 1962, through to the majority buy-out by ATV in 1969 and Michael Jackson’s shock purchase of ATV in 1985 (and its merger with Sony in 1995), there are now an awful lot of cooks standing around the pot with a vested interest.

Add to this a well-publicised copyright dispute between Apple Corps (The Beatles' media company) and Apple Inc, and the end result is a collection of companies and individuals without a great deal of trust for each other. This may have changed for the better in recent years with a string of legal settlements, but the path to full agreement remains precariously rocky.  

Nothing planned

In fact, the present situation is that nothing immediate is about to happen.

A spokesperson from Sony/ATV yesterday told CNET that while EMI holds recording rights, Sony/ATV owns full publishing rights to The Beatles’ back catalogue. The spokesperson is quoted as telling CNET that had any deal been cut then Sony/ATV “would absolutely be informed”.

Another complicating factor is that Paul McCartney, Ringo Star and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison will also need to agree terms. It certainly isn’t as simple as Sir Paul simply giving the ‘thumbs up’ as implied by the Daily Mail.

Until Sony/ATV, Apple and those representing the original ‘Fab Four’ are in full agreement over fees, terms and conditions, The Beatles won’t be appearing on iTunes.

In other words, forget anything you read in the press – only believe it when you can see and hear and download it.