Remastered Beatles on iTunes in 2008

George Harrison's widow says remastering and new artwork will delay 'imminent' digital release

Beatles fans will probably have to wait until next year before they can buy the Fab Four's tunes from online retailers such as Apple's iTunes store, George Harrison's widow has said.

A recent settlement to a lengthy trademark dispute between Apple and the Beatles' company, Apple Corps, has cleared the way for the band to distribute its catalogue in cyberspace.

But Olivia Harrison told Reuters, 'We just have a few things to work out elsewhere.'

Specifically, all the Beatles CDs have been remastered - good news for fans who have long complained about the poor sound quality - and the organisation wants to get the artwork ready for the physical packages.

Asked if the catalogue would be available online by the end of next year, she said, 'Oh God, yeah. Hope so ... I don't know if it would be the end of this year, but it would be nice. Imminent, let's put it that way.'

Paul McCartney, who has adopted an aggressive digital marketing strategy for the release next week of his solo album, Memory Almost Full, said last month that an online deal for the Beatles catalogue was 'virtually settled' - perhaps over the cheesecake he delivered to Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. But he, too, shied away from saying that anything would happen in the short term.

The Beatles are the highest-profile omission from digital retailers. While the dispute with Apple did not help, the band's organisation has traditionally adopted a conservative approach to new technology, including CDs.

'I think we're a little bit behind,' Harrison said, noting that it was 'ridiculous' that properly remastered CDs of the band's catalogue were not yet available.

'We [the band's members and widows] all agree. It's been done. It's just trying to now get it out there.'

She said that Neil Aspinall, the recently retired businessman who oversaw the group's complex business affairs, had been busy in recent years on the remastering project.

'That's a big job. That means you have to go back through all the archives and find great photographs and really give a nice package to the fans.'

Aspinall retired in April and was replaced by Jeff Jones, an American music industry executive who specialises in deluxe reissues of classic albums. Harrison said Aspinall's departure was voluntary, dispelling fan speculation to the contrary.

But she said Jones would 'pick up the pace' now that the most recent project, a Beatle-inspired Cirque du Soleil stage show in Las Vegas, was underway after years of preparation initiated by her husband before he died in 2001.

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