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Thursday, October 30, 2008, 10:40 am PT (01:40 pm ET)

Beatles strike video game deal ahead of iTunes distribution

Negotiations to bring the music of the Beatles to iTunes or any other digital download service appear to have taken a back seat to a landmark deal that will see the legendary rock band's catalog form the foundation of a new video game from the makers of Rock Band.

The triangular pact announced Thursday morning has record label Apple Corps licensing the band's vast music collection for an interactive video game that will be developed by Harmonix, creators of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero titles, and published by MTV Games.

When it hits the market ahead of the 2009 holiday shopping season, the title will offer an "unprecedented, experiential progression through and celebration of the music and artistry of The Beatles," according to the three companies, who declined to offer additional details.

Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, have each given the project their blessing and are collectively providing creative feedback on the game. Giles Martin, co-producer of The Beatles LOVE project, will serve as the project's music producer.

"People are having so much fun playing Rock Band. Combined with The Beatles tracks, it is a great way to either listen or participate," said Olivia Harrison, widow of the late Beatles guitarist and song writer, George Harrison. "If you like the music, it doesn't take much persuasion to get you to play."

"The project is a fun idea which broadens the appeal of The Beatles and their music," added McCartney. "I like people having the opportunity to get to know the music from the inside out."

Although the game will draw upon the underlying principles and technology of Harmonix's ever-popular Rock Band title, it will be released as a brand new offering and won't share the Rock Band brand.

During a conference call covering the game's announcement Thursday morning, Apple Corps chief executive Jeff Jones was repeatedly pressed for an update on digital distribution of the Beatles' catalog through download services like iTunes, which he deferred to the end of the call.

The Beatles remain one highest profile hold-outs on the digital music scene but have been rumored (1, 2, 3) to be in negotiations regarding iTunes distribution ever since Apple and Apple Corps ended their bitter, three-decade old trademark dispute early last year.

The most recent report on the matter suggested that remastered versions of the Beatles' catalog were unlikely to crop up on iTunes until sometime in 2009, though similar claims were being made about 2008 a year earlier. Even then, they won't be exclusive to the Apple download service, an Apple Corps official said last year.

At the end of Thursday's conference call, Jones returned to the subject of digital distribution but provided no new color on the situation. "All I can say is that we're still working out the details, we have no announcement to make, no date or any information," he said.

In June, AppleInsider reported (on its blogs) rumors that the Beatles' first digital music releases would arrive through video games rather than direct downloads.