Monday , July 22 2024

The Grey Album

Illegal Art is doing what they do best, stirring up copyright-related controversy. This time it’s about Danger Mouse’s Grey Album:

    DJ Danger Mouse’s recent Grey Album, which remixes Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles White Album, has been hailed as a innovative hip-hop triumph. Despite that and the fact that only 3,000 copies of the album are in circulation, EMI sent cease and desist letters yesterday to Danger Mouse and the handful of stores that were selling the album, demanding that the album be destroyed.
    “EMI isn’t looking for compensation, they’re trying to ban a work of art,” said Downhill Battle’s Rebecca Laurie.

    “Special interests, including the major labels, have turned copyright law into a weapon,” said Downhill Battle co-founder Holmes Wilson. “If Danger Mouse had requested permission and offered to pay royalties, EMI still would have said no and the public would never have been able to enjoy this critically acclaimed work. Artists are being forced to break the law to innovate.”

    The Grey Album has been widely shared on file sharing networks such as Kazaa and Soulseek, and has garnered critical acclaim in Rolling Stone (which called it “the ultimate remix record” and “an ingenious hip-hop record that sounds oddly ahead of its time”), the Boston Globe (which called it the “most creatively captivating” album of the year), and other major news outlets.

The result is certainly interesting – a high-end mash-up. Click over to download the entire album. hosted the files themselves and got to deal with this:

    February 13, 2004

    I was cc’d on an e-mail from EMI’s lawyers to my ISP, stating that I’m in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. As such, I have removed all of the MP3s from my web server. The text of the EMI letter is below.

    Jeff Lowenberg
    Vice President Operations/Designated Agent
    Everyone’s Internet
    2600 Southwest Freeway, Suite 500
    Houston, TX 77098

    Re: Unauthorized Use of Sound Recordings Performed by the Beatles

    Dear Mr. Lowenberg:

    It has come to our attention that Andrew Baio is currently exploiting sound recordings that are owned and/or controlled by Capitol Records, Inc. (“Capitol”). In particular, it appears that Mr. Baio is using, without authorization, on his website, ,
    (the “Website”), copies of sound recordings embodying performances of the Beatles, including but not limited to recordings of “Long, Long, Long,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Glass Onion,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Helter Skelter,” “Julia,” “Happiness is Warm Gun,” “Piggies,” “Dear Prudence,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Revolution 1,” “Revolution 9,” “I’m So
    Tired,” and “Cry Baby Cry” (the “Capitol Recordings”).

    Andrew Baio’s unauthorized exploitation of the Capitol Recordings constitutes copyright infringement, and renders Andrew Baio, and any other company engaged in the unauthorized exploitation of the Capitol Recordings with Andrew Baio, liable for all of the remedies provided by the relevant laws occasioned by
    Andrew Baio’s unfair competition and dilution of our valuable property.

    I am the agent authorized to act on behalf of Capitol, the complaining party. It is our understanding that Everyone’s Internet, Inc. is the Internet Service Provider for Andrew Baio and the Website, and as such, you are the authorized agent for service of this notice in accord with The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, 17 U.S.C. � 512 et seq. (the “DMCA Notice”) for Everyone’s Internet, Inc.
    We request that following your investigation of this matter you provide us full remedy under the DMCA Notice requirement, including but not limited to,
    expeditiously removing or disabling access to our copyrighted material. Unless we receive full and immediate compliance with this demand within a
    reasonable amount of time, we will be forced to consider pursuing our other remedies at law and in equity.

    This letter is written without prejudice to any of our rights or remedies, all of which are expressly reserved herein.

    By placing my signature herein, I state under penalty of perjury that the information contained in this notification is accurate and that I am authorized
    to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right of the Copyright alleged to be infringed.

    Jonathan H. Campbell
    Legal and Business Affairs
    EMI Recorded Music, North America

So you still think of the DMCA as some kind of abstract evil? Not to Andrew. That’s why I am only linking to the files and not hosting them.

The Beatles are in no way harmed by this, of course. They should be compensated for the use of their work, but they should not be able to stop the use of their work.

Wired has looked into the matter as well:

    Unlike other illicit remixers — such as avant-garde ensemble Negativland, which got into a famous fight with a certain Irish rock band over their album U2 — Danger Mouse won’t challenge EMI’s directive.

    “He wants a career after this,” a source close to the DJ said.

    “I’m just worried … whether Paul and Ringo will like it. If they say that they hate it, and that I messed up their music, I think I’ll put my tail between my legs and go,” Danger Mouse recently told The New Yorker.

    But remixers like Danger Mouse shouldn’t have to worry about hurting musicians’ — or labels’ — feelings, argues Nicholas Reville, co-founder of the music industry gadfly group Downhill Battle.

    “All kinds of artists have always borrowed and built on each others’ work,” he said. “These corporations have outlawed an art form.”

    ….There is no freedom to beat-match. And there are no set licensing fees. So while the Beatles’ tunes have been recorded by thousands of bands, their song catalog has been notoriously off-limits to hip-hop and dance-music producers’ manipulations. (The one exception to the rule, the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, came out before the rules of sampling were clearly established.)

    To Zittrain, that smacks of “copyright as a means of control, rather than a means of profit.” In the American legal tradition, he notes, copyright is seen as a way to make sure innovators get paid for their work, not to keep others from being creative.

    “So long as there’s money to be made, it’s a negotiation,” he said. “There’s not a lot of excitement for further downstream innovation being blocked. Nobody wants to see that.”

    Jay-Z’s engineer, Young Guru, told last month that the rapper released a words-only version of The Black Album so DJs could “remix the hell out of it.” And they have.

    ….With all that hype, “Why not just sign the guy?” asks the Creative Commons’ Brown. “Why not license the record, and have everybody make a bunch off of it?”

Because it’s all about control.

Illegal Art’s policy position on why they are hosting the Grey Album files:

    The laws governing “intellectual property” have grown so expansive in recent years that artists need legal experts to sort them all out. Borrowing from another artwork–as jazz musicians did in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators did in 1940s–will now land you in court. If the current copyright laws had been in effect back in the day, whole genres such as collage, hiphop, and Pop Art might have never have existed.
    The irony here couldn’t be more stark. Rooted in the U.S. Constitution, copyright was originally intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas but is now being used to stifle it.

    The Illegal Art Exhibit will celebrate what is rapidly becoming the “degenerate art” of a corporate age: art and ideas on the legal fringes of intellectual property. Some of the pieces in the show have eluded lawyers; others have had to appear in court.

    Loaded with gray areas, intellectual property law inevitably has a silencing effect, discouraging the creation of new works.

    Should artists be allowed to use copyrighted materials? Where do the First Amendment and “intellectual property” law collide? What is art’s future if the current laws are allowed to stand? Stay Free! considers these questions and others in our multimedia program.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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