Sunday, September 18, 2011

Artistic Expression Versus Copyright Laws: The Debate Surrounding DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album

As the mash-up has become one of the most popular forms of music in the past few years, thanks to artists such as Girl Talk, Super Smash Bros., Norwegian Recycling, etc., the issues surrounding the legality of this type of musical expression have gained attention throughout the years. We can see this in the example of DJ Danger Mouse’s mash-up creation of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album. The issue that is debated in this article centers upon the opposition that exists between musical corporations, such as EMI, and the musical artists who utilize sampling as a creative means of production.

As we learned from Havens and Lotz, it is not uncustomary for the “big-wigs” of corporate America to restrain technological developments in order to maintain power, both economic and social. This was done with radio when FM technologies began to achieve new heights (Havens & Lotz). In my eyes, the primary reason for this opposition to such developments comes from an economic perspective: why spend money in an industry that is continually evolving? Would this not result in excess spending for years to come, if not forever? Socially, however, it seems that these corporations are simply stifling such forms of artistic expression, such as The Grey Album, in order to maintain their power. We can see this especially in the note that Capitol Records sent to many of the individuals who participated in Grey Tuesday, in which they “’demand[ed’” (151) that these participants contact the corporations immediately.

Should these corporations not be more concerned with the ways in which sampling could benefit them economically if they are so concerned with maintaining such a position of power? As was noted by the executive director of Creative Commons, Glenn Otis Brown: “’Why not just sign the guy…and have everybody make a bunch off of it?”’ (154). The Grey Album was not being used for commercial purposes to begin with, so in that sense, this production should have been untouchable to EMI. How is one to consider projects such as these as “copyright infringement” if the works are not meant to make a profit off of? It seems that, as noted in this article, the corporations are simply taking such drastic action in order to censor and stifle artistic expression in order to assure themselves that the power they have is not being taken by everyday DJ’s and musical artists, or even simple members of the general public. 

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