The compilation's official subtitle says it all: The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol 1. Delivered to a handful of "random" record shops in the UK, Germany, France and Sweden, according to Rolling Stone, the four-CD set comprises 86 songs recorded in 1962 and 1963, around the time of Dylan's debut album. The packaging is plain, the liner notes almost non-existent. But fans are treating them as the rarities they are; bidding on eBay has topped £650.
According to sources at Sony Music, this compilation isn't really meant for mass consumption. It's essentially an attempt to keep these tracks from entering the public domain. Although the European Union has extended copyright terms from 50 years to 70 years, the extension only applies to recordings that have been released during the 50 years after they were made. Sony was therefore forced to release these songs – albeit in limited form – before the end of 2012, when their half-century was up.
"This isn't a scheme to make money," a source explained to Rolling Stone. "The whole point of copyrighting [this material] is that we intend to do something with it at some point in the future. But it wasn't the right time to do it right after [Dylan] released Tempest."
Perhaps Sony will eventually reissue Dylan's 1962 debut with a series of outtakes, or collect decades of demos in another box set. Perhaps they just want to thwart the opportunist labels who can now legally sell any unreleased material from before 1963. The only thing that's certain is that some British, German, French and Swedish Dylan fans got very, very lucky.