We mentioned the controversy over the DJ Dangermouse remix of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles White Album. This is very interesting, and I am very willing to help publicize it although I am not willing to host the actual files: I do not wish to break the law, but I am willing to support efforts to change bad law and am willing to show that support by “turning grey” next Tuesday, the 24th, as well.
My personal belief is that as long as creators are compensated for their work (which neither Jay-Z nor the Beatles have for The Grey Album), that the creators should NOT be able to control how their work is used – songwriters don’t have that right.
Here are the facts on the protest from Downhill Battle:
- Tuesday, February 24 will be a day of coordinated civil disobedience: websites will post Danger Mouse’s Grey Album on their site for 24 hours in protest of EMI’s attempts to censor this work.
DJ Danger Mouse created a remix of Jay-Z’s the Black Album and the Beatles White Album, and called it the Grey Album. Jay-Z’s record label, Roc-A-Fella, released an a capella version of his Black Ablum specifically to encourage remixes like this one. But despite praise from music fans and major media outlets like Rolling Stone (“an ingenious hip-hop record that sounds oddly ahead of its time”) and the Boston Globe (which called it the “most creatively captivating” album of the year), EMI has sent cease and desist letters demanding that stores destroy their copies of the album and websites remove them from their site. EMI claims copyright control of the Beatles 1968 White Ablum.
Danger Mouse’s album is one of the most “respectful” and undeniably positive examples of sampling; it honors both the Beatles and Jay-Z. Yet the lawyers and bureaucrats at EMI have shown zero flexibility and not a glimmer of interest in the artistic significance of this work. And without a clearly defined right to sample (e.g. compulsory licensing), the five major record labels will continue to use copyright in a reactionary and narrowly self-interested manner that limits and erodes creativity. Their actions are also self-defeating: good new music is being created that people want to buy, but the major labels are so obsessed with hoarding their copyrights that they are literally turning customers away.
This first-of-its-kind protest signals a refusal to let major label lawyers control what musicians can create and what the public can hear. The Grey Album is only one of the thousands of legitimate and valuable efforts that have been stifled by the record industry– not to mention the ones that were never even attempted because of the current legal climate. We cannot allow these corporations to continue censoring art; we need common-sense reforms to copyright law that can make sampling legal and practical for artists.
February 24 – Grey Tuesday is now on. Downhill Battle received a cease and desist order on the protest from EMI’s lawyers. This is their response:
Mr. Jensen and EMI:
We have received your February 23 email concerning our plans to make the Grey Album available on our website.
Despite your letter, Downhill Battle will be posting the Grey Album on our website tomorrow. Your efforts to suppress this music stifle creativity and harm the public interest; we will not be intimidated into backing down. Downhill Battle has a fair-use right to post this music under current copyright law and the public has a fair-use right to hear it. Opposing EMI’s censorship campaign is precisely the purpose of Tuesday’s protest and we won’t waiver from that goal.
The current legal environment allows the five major record labels to dictate to musicians what kind of music they may and may not create and allows them to prevent the public from hearing music that does not fall within their rules. For people to make an informed decision about whether the major record labels and existing copyright law serve the interests of musicians and the public, they need to be able to hear the music that is being suppressed. The Grey Tuesday protest is about ensuring that this music is widely available so that the public can make informed decisions. Copyright was created by Congress to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Your actions violate that purpose. Any lawsuit against us will bring more attention to both the protest and the need for serious copyright reform, and we expect to win any case on fair-use grounds.
Our posting of the Grey Album on Downhill Battle is a political act with no commercial interest and fits well within fair use rights. Lawyers have advised us that we can ignore your demands number 2, 3, and 4 that are listed at the bottom of your letter. EMI has no legal right to make these demands and we will not comply with them. Furthermore, if EMI attempts to disrupt our protest by sending takedown letters to participating websites, ISPs of participating websites, or any upstream ISPs, we will file a counter-suit against you. We consider any attempts to stifle this protest to be an abuse under section 512F of the DMCA.