Wonder if the copyright system is flawed? Watch this eye-opening, depressing video above and wonder no longer. What's worse is that the SWAT team might be in the legal right.
When it comes to developing street buzz, hip-hop artists don’t look to record companies for help. Instead, they turn to DJs such as Atlanta’s DJ Drama, whose “Gangsta Grillz” mixtape series has been crucial to the success of rappers such as Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and T.I.
Mixtapes usually feature unreleased and often unlicensed material coveted by fans. But since the mixtapes provide free guerrilla marketing, record executives generally ignore copyright infringement issues associated with them. But the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) isn’t turning a blind eye.... Mixtapes - which despite their name are actually CD compilations - have served as the most powerful underground marketing tool for major record companies for more than a decade.
The RIAA, in response, told the New York Times...
Brad A. Buckles, executive vice president for anti-piracy at the Recording Industry Association of America, said, "A sound recording is either copyrighted or it's not."
"If there's a mixtape out there that (DJ Drama) is being paid to produce, that doesn't translate to 'everything he's producing is at the behest of the record industry,"' Buckles said. "He could have two titles that are somehow authorized and 50 that aren't.
From a DJ in the Billboard story.... something that may not surprise those following the digital music business...
"The Drama situation is all about an old-fashioned organization like the RIAA not keeping up with new technology and marketing methods," said DJ Irie, a mixer on hip-hop station WEDR (99 Jamz) Miami. "Mixtapes help record labels and artists. Record sales are already declining, and without mixtapes they would be even worse. The artists and some labels get it, and that's why they support and oftentimes fund mixtapes."
Indeed, as USA Today implied last year, why would the RIAA want to shut down one of the most effective marketing arms for its members? The USA Today piece notes that the following artists owe much of their success to mixtapes. Read the list and then consider how much cash these artists have brought into labels in the last decade...
Eminem, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, DMX, Cam'ron, Juelz Santana, Fabolous, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Mike Jones, T.I., Young Jeezy and many more.
Providing more color from that piece and proof that label marketers and lawyers aren't always on the same page...
"50 Cent and (manager/producer) Sha Money XL were basically outside the radio station every day trying to get their stuff on the radio when they had no buzz," says DJ Clue, who just recently left New York's highly influential Hot 97 (WQHT-FM) for rival Power 105.1 (WWPR-FM). "We just kept doing stuff, and he was putting out mixtapes of his own that were hot, and a combination of the two was a lethal combination."...
Shanti Das, Universal Motown's executive vice president for marketing and artist development, says the company encourages mixtapes to promote their artists, but that it's important to partner with the right DJs. She says the label often gives DJs exclusive freestyle raps or songs that won't appear on an upcoming mainstream album. The seal of approval from certain DJs gives an artist instant credibility.
DJ Drama came out with his response this weekend that previews his legal strategy and states what everyone in the hip-hop industry already knows..
"We are being accused of damaging the music industry, when in fact, we are hired by record labels to help develop and elevate the careers of their artists by previewing unreleased material to the masses.
Label acceptance, endorsement and monetary return may be damned, though, when it comes to the letter of the law. From MTV News...
Attorney Robert Celestin — who's best known for working on record deals for Mary J. Blige and Jodeci — says that in most cases, the sale or simply giving away a mixtape is illegal. "If you look at the black-letter law regarding copyrighting, technically, if you're putting out copyrights, you're infringing on a copyright of whoever's music is on the mixtape."
Put all these sorry facts together and one wonders if DJ Drama wasn't the target of the raid because of some inside-hip-hop battle that led to a RIAA tip that couldn't be ignored. This is the theory at one big hip hop site.
Regardless, we hope that the silver lining here is that folks turn their attention to the fact that the mixtapes may not have only had promotional value but could be considered valued creative outputs on their own that don't subtract from the opportunity of the artists being mixed. Given this, there should be a copyright system that makes it a heck of a lot easier for DJs and other recombinant artists to license samples that can be used to create new creative tracks that bear little resemblance to the originals.
This is obviously one of the ideas around Creative Commons and why Larry Lessig is out pushing for a copyright system that matches a 21st Century digitally driven entertainment world.
Here's one blogger's relevant take on the DJ Drama situation...
"If you think all this shit is wrong, don't spend your time decrying the RIAA, or loudly proclaiming that music should be free when bands ask that you please not post the music they have made, or pretending that all your disclaimers and justifications make what you're doing legal. Pressure labels that support mixtapes and MP3blogs and mashups and all those sorts of mutually beneficial uses of copyrighted material to lobby to have the laws changed. You have a relationship with labels? Great. Write them an e-mail and tell them to support copyright reform. Tell them that the double standard they've supported lets them have it both ways while sending mixtape makers to prison."
Speaking of which, one of the biggest DJs in America is a guy who goes by the name Girl Talk. He's a biomedical engineer by day and a mash-up DJ by weekend. Mash-ups are nothing new and perhaps the one of the best albums of the last few years was an illegal mash-up (DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album).
Girl Talk mixes dozens of samples into his tracks in ways that makes many of the bits and pieces unrecognizable. He's selling out clubs right and left. Oh, and he doesn't have the rights to any of the samples.
The statement I’ve been issuing is that I think the music industry is starting to realize that this type of music isn’t really hurting anyone. No one’s really picking up my album instead of someone I sample. If anything, it’s just getting people excited about music in general, so I think that’s the reason the record labels haven’t really had a problem because they realize, if anything it’s a promotional tool for their artists.
...the interesting thing is a lot of major labels, pretty much all of the four majors or some subsidiary of them, have been contacting me non-stop to say that they liked the album and are interested in working on something in the future.
Uh oh. Watch out Girl Talk.
BTW, here's a recent Girl Track track that largely remixes "Knife" by the indie band Grizzly Bear. Have fun naming the other samples. And, maybe you like it so much that you go out and buy something from Grizzly Bear. Download or play the Girl Talk Knife remix.