Why All the Expensive Box Sets? Not the Reason You Think.

Yesterday saw the release of Bob Dylan: The 1966 Live Recordingsa 36 CD(!!!) box set chronicling Zimmy’s touring life that year. It can be yours for just $250 CAD.


Pink Floyd has just issued The Early Years 1965-1972 which looks like it comes in a steamer trunk. There are only 27 CDs, but there’s other stuff browse through. The price? Just $650 CAD.


Too dear? Then take a look at The Who’s five-disc reissue of their 1965 album, My Generation. That the package comes with five discs is pretty amazing considering the original album runs all of 36 minutes. Get yours for a shade over $142 CAD.


Fans–at least those with the means–love these things because they offer unprecedented detail and documentation of specific eras of their favourite band’s career. Record labels love putting out boxes because the margins are nice and fat. But even that’s not the most important reason.

In many areas of the world, the copyright on a recording runs out after fifty years. However, the rightsholder can gain another fifty years out of a recording by re-issuing a tweaked version–a remix, a remaster, etc.–of the original. Under copyright law, doing so creates a new recording and the expiry clock is reset to zero.

Notice that each of the above feature material from the crucial years of 1965 and 1966. If not for the reissues, the material would slip into the public domain, making it fair game for anyone to put them out without having to pay the artists, the songwriters or the holders of the (now expired) copyright.

The Dylan box is the best example. Better to officially release all those live recordings lest the become legal bootlegs in the regions where the 50-year rule applies. Much of the world has longer copyright terms, but the protection for rightsholders is only as strong in the weakest link in the chain, right?

This means until the planet all gets on board under the same copyright rules, we’ll see a stream of reissues, all designed to keep these recordings out of the public domain. For example, 2017 might see new editions of:

  • Hitherto unavailable material from The Doors debut album as well as Strange Days.
  • Anything unreleased from the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow.
  • Previously unknown live recordings from James Brown.
  • What did Cream leave behind from the recording and promotion of Disraeli Gears?

I could go on, but you get the point. Best keep the credit card clear lest something fantastic suddenly become available.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Why All the Expensive Box Sets? Not the Reason You Think.

  • November 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Where’s the rest of the story?

    I’m assuming the answer involves European 50-year copyright laws, meaning that if a lot of artists don’t release huge collections of live shows and studio outtakes, then the tapes will go into the public domain.

    Rolling Stone magazine suggested that we’ll also soon be seeing live material from the Rolling Stone’s 1969 tour, material from the Beatles’ Let It Be sessions, some early Led Zeppelin shows and live stuff from Bruce Springsteen’s early band Steel Mill.

    • November 12, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Oops. Sorry. When I posted, the story was missing.

  • Pingback: Links: Floor-sweepings editions, Paul is Still Dead, Imogen Heap’s $133.20, a non-stupid industry report. – Rocknerd

  • December 1, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    As much as I love listening to alternate takes and rare versions of songs by my favorite bands, it does seem silly to spend upwards of 100 bucks on a boxed set when there is so much to be read and heard free or very inexpensively on the Internet.

    • February 11, 2018 at 1:29 am

      And there you have it–a perfect reason why the music business is dying. You can just get so much music for free. Perfect answer, Tim.


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