November 25, 2020

Support the Grey Album

Today many websites have turned themselves grey, to protest EMI Records’ decision to try to block the Grey Album, DJ Danger Mouse’s clever and widely acclaimed musical work, in which he mixed a capella vocals from Jay-Z’s Black Album with backing sounds sampled from the Beatles’ White Album. EMI, which claims copyright in the Beatles album, has sent cease and desist letters to sites that post the Grey Album.

I don’t know whether the Grey Album’s use of Beatles samples meets the legal definition of fair use; so I don’t know whether EMI is within its rights to do what it is doing. What I do know is that EMI was not compelled to suppress the Grey Album, but instead it chose to try to suppress a popular work that is doing nothing to harm the sales of the Beatles’ music. Worse yet, EMI tries to put a “creators’ rights” spin on its actions, even as it works to suppress a new creative work. Let’s hope that public opinion shames EMI into reversing course and freeing the Grey Album.

Comments

  1. Cypherpunk says:

    Do you think that all artists should be forced to allow people to use recognizable excerpts of their work, without any compensation? That seems to be what has happened here. This isn’t a case of just a note or a chord being reused, but extended melodic segments. I listened to one of them, called “What More Can I Say”, and it has long sections from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, including not only the music but even several seconds of the Beatles very recognizably singing their lyrics.

    You can’t evaluate this case solely as a unique situation. If EMI allows this, how could they consistently prevent similar reuses? Are you asking EMI to just allow Danger Mouse to get away witih this, or do you think everyone should allow this degree of reuse? If the former, why make an exception for him? If the latter, whose judgement should determine when a certain level of reuse is too much? And how about even more commercial uses, like a car ad; should they be able to use the Beatles’ music as much as Danger Mouse did?

    It seems to me that you are on a very slippery slope here in supporting this unauthorized use. Unless you have an argument for how this falls into the recognized categories of fair use, you are calling for an extension of that doctrine. And in that case you have an obligation to say just how far the new boundaries should be pushed.

  2. Do you think that all artists should be forced to allow people to use recognizable excerpts of their work, without any compensation?

    Not forced, but not allowed to retain absolute control if they created the work forty years ago, and/or no longer own the rights. If copyright would ever go back to something sane (longer than twenty years is not sane), then our cultural mix will be much richer. Allowing artists to “stand on the shoulders of giants” can only help.

  3. the thing is, people will download it. as soon as it gets out on the internet, it can never be taken back. and the fact that this guy isnt selling more than the few copies he sold to his local record store means he isnt making money off this. he is just reminding many people how great the beatles were while showcasing his talents.

  4. vetteranger says:

    “If copyright would ever go back to something sane (longer than twenty years is not sane), then our cultural mix will be much richer.”

    The above statement displays nothing but PURE IGNORANCE of both the creative process and the reason for copyright laws.

    So, our “cultural mix” will be much richer when people COPY the eariler works of others, rather than creating fresh material of their own? Your statement just shows that any moronic concept can be couched in a sentence that sounds rational, whether it makes any sense or not. Luckily there are some people out here who can see thru your fuzzy logic.

    Copyright law has stood the test of time, and it is in place, along with its time protections, for good reasons.

    If you build a restaurant, and work hard to make it a success, you can pass that success along to your children and they to theirs. Multi-generation businesses are common, and are a well respected element of society.

    If you set up a successful business, say a hamburger grill, and someone set up a charcoal grill on your front porch to try to take advantage of your operation, you’d move them off of it! The legal right you would be enforcing would be trespassing.

    If your business is writing books, or songs, you should have the same protection. An artist has the same right for the fruit of his labors to benefit him in his old age, and to prosper for his family, as does any other business person. He has the same right to move a trespasser off of his front porch.

    Particulary in music, often an artist makes their mark in younger years. If they contribute popular and important works, copyright laws insure that they share in any proceeds of those works during their lifetimes. Do you not think that artist needs an income when they reach 60, 70, 80 years of age? Are they, as the creative talent responsible for the work, not entitled to have that work help them thru their elder years, just because you may wish to give it away for free on your web site?

    I’m old enough now that I’m well aware that people who make opinionated, ignorant statements, are often irredeemable in their inability to see things clearly. So you may or may not be educated by this post. However, my hope is that some others who may have been incorrectly influenced by your post may have a chance to understand just WHY it was so wrong, and so very dangerous if left unchallenged!

  5. the Grey Album is a rap album, a good one at that. it doesnt expand on what The Jungle Brothers and others did about 20 years ago; only instead of doing it to JB releases this one does it to The Beatles.

    it is not a beatles cover album: so its likely not a question of copyright in the music, but in the recording. so in most of europe (only 50 years on that), the same done to elvis presley was legal, or – in ten years time – dj danger mouse’ work.

  6. vetteranger says:

    Use of ANY PART of a copyrighted work, without the author’s prior permission, or due royalties paid, is copyright infringement.

    You could say, “The Beatles all got rich, so where’s harm?”

    This might not harm the Beatles, but allowing it would set a precedent that would lead to harm in cases where the artists aren’t rich, and need their properly due royalties to live on.

  7. vetteranger, should Shakespear’s family still recieve royalties everytime someone puts on a production of Othello? What about interpretations of it? Exactly when should residuals end for the family? Never? Support that argument in terms of rewarding the creator.

    What if London Writers LLC owned the copyrights? A corporation has no natural lifespan, and could theoretically exist in perpetuity. Should that lifetime rule the copyright term?

    Calling others’ opinions “purely ignorant” only highlights your own ignorance. Limited copyright terms are rational in an society that builds upon it’s past achievements. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t really understand the creative process.

    Take this challenge: Write a truly original plot outline. Make sure that no one has ever written a similar story. Make sure that the characters are unique in all respects. Make sure that the setting has never been used before.

    Do that, and someone here might respect your argument that copyright should be perpetual. Otherwise, stop calling other people’s opinions ignorant. It looks more like a reflection in this light.

  8. vetteranger says:

    SRC,

    The copywrite laws allow an author and his estate legal claim for the copyright until 50 years after his death. Of course, these laws didn’t exist in Shakespear’s time, but if they had his copyrights would have long expired.

    When a revival of “Cats” or “The Sound of Music” tours the country, you can be sure that correct royalties are paid to Andrew Lloyd Webber, and to the estates of Rogers and Hammerstein. Yet this has NEVER stopped such a tour.

    Amateur performances and benefits of plays and other stage shows are routinely granted permission by virtually all copyright holders, which is why your local high school can put on a performance of “David and Lisa” any year they choose to.

    Your entire argument is ridiculous.

    I didn’t say that copyright’s should be perpetual. If you have a problem comprehending what you read, that’s YOUR problem. 😉

    Your post shows that you have absolutely NO IDEA what a copyright protects, why it protects it, why its important that it be protected, or anything else whatsoever about the subject.

    Without copyright protection, creative material as you know and enjoy it would virtually cease to exist, because all literary works and musical compositions would become strictly amateur efforts, as no one would be able to sustain an income in their craft for long enough to become truly masterful in it.

    Building on the state of the art … past achievements … and blatantly copying someone else’s creative effort, as is the case with the so called “Grey Album”, are two completely different things. Your self professed ignorance of the difference shows that you, sir, are indeed the one in the dark.

    The desire to break the law is not a good excuse for having done so, no matter how lazy or opportunistic the perpetrator might be.

    Tip : If you want to argue a point, it’s really helpful to have even a SINGLE CLUE about the subject before you run off at the mouth and prove your ineptitude in the forum. Emotional outburst based on, and exhibiting, and complete lack of knowledge of the subject don’t tend to build credibility for your arguement. LOL

  9. dear vetter anger,

    danger mouse is NOT “blatantly copying” someone elses work – did you listen in?

  10. vetteranger says:

    dangermouse copied the work of two other artists, and did so without permission from either one. He didn’t even ask. He blew his excuse of “it was for entertainment for friends” when he burned CDs and S-O-L-D them to local record stores.

    The fact that he combined two separate works into one is irrelevant for the purpose of determining copyright vioilation.

    Whether the end result is entertaining is irrelevant for the putpose of determining copyright infringement.

    Whether people who are completely ignorant of the substance or purpose of coypright laws like what he did, artisticly or legally, is irrelevant for the purpose of determining copyright infringement.

    He is likely a good guy who did a dumb thing. It looks like if he had bothered to ask permission first, he might well have gotten it. However, the world is full of good guys who do dumb things. It doesn’t excuse the dumb things.

  11. vetteranger, you have demonstrated that you have a very limited, narrow and myopic definition of what constitutes artistic creation. Your misunderstandings of the implications of nearly perpetual copyright (not ‘write’) run so deep that it would take far too long to correct, even if you did have an open mind. Since you don’t, it’s not worth trying.

    Regardless of the issue of copyright term, do you or do you not see that most artistic creation today is based upon what has come before? Do you or do you not see that by allowing works to enter the public domain in some reasonable time period we are fostering the future of artistic creation? Do you or do you not understand the difference between blatent copying (ripping CD’s, photocopying books) and artistically blending existing works to create something new – yes, something that is based upon the work of others, but yet is a totally new expression of artistic intent?

    I’m not talking about the technical issue of what constitutes a copyright violation, but about the process of creation. You seem to view the Grey Album as nothing more than a violation. It’s sad that you can’t see beyond the technicalities to reach an understanding of what art is.

  12. Jason Mierek says:

    A brief response to vetteranger seems to be in order:

    Art, at least for most of human history, has obviously been a cumulative process. In the Western canon, there are countless examples of characters, plot lines, themes, motifs, etc. being repeatedly reinvented. T

    he Aeneid drew on the Iliad and the Odyssey, as a source of both inspiration and legitimacy. That is one of the reasons it is recognized as a classic; it reivests older artistic themes and characters with a new life.

    The Arthurian mythos are also an evolving body of stories that feature characters a thousand years old. To whom should T.H. White have paid royalties when he referred to Arthur and Camelot? The family of the author of Gawain and the Green Knight? Thomas Mallory’s great-great-great-great-grandchildren? Should Stephen Lawhead have to pay T. H. White? They wrote their Arthurian tales less than 2 generations apart, so surely that is a closer parallel to the current situation than Shakespeare and his descendents?

    You may respond by saying that these examples are all different, that Troy and Arthur belong to some mysterious “public domain” that later artists may freely tap into.

    Yet this is exactly the point of those who protest EMI’s actions againts DJ Dangermouse and his “Grey Album.” Copyright laws that provide for forty year absolute ownership of a creative work, particularly a work as culturally pervasive as the Beatles’canon (I’ve heard at least one Beatles song everyday for as long as I’ve been alive; in a very real neurological sense, their music is as much my intellectual property now as it is Lennon and McCartney’s) strangle this notion of “public domain.”

    Many may agree that copyright protections protect against copying someone else’s work. Yet, according to most musical authorities, DJ Dangermouse did more than merely COPY. He took the notes, hooks, and voices that have haunted global civilization (and if you think “global” is an exaggeration, I’ve got a CD by a guy from Papua New Guinea whose first inspiration was the Beatles), threw them through a blender, mixed them with someone else’s freely offered lyrics, and created what many are describing as a “hip hop masterpiece” (as well as a damned witty idea). A far cry from forgery.

    Finally, to assert that those who want to diminish the restrictions on creative freedom perpetuated by American copyright law must provide a new picture of how copyright should now function is illogical and unfair. We need not create a new general purpose one-size-fits-all reponse, though if we actually approach this situation through rational dialogue, instead of through litigation and name calling, a new scenario may indeed emerge. Suffice it to say that, for now, we merely want to hear this album.

    Folks who know say it is groundbreaking. Let’s begin with the reform of copyright law by releasing this one critter, and seeing what happens next.

    Jason Mierek
    Instructor of Philosophy and Religion
    Parkland College
    Champaign IL

  13. I haven’t heard the Grey Album music, but I just want to make sure there is no misunderstanding about The Beatles. The Beatles were never intended to be racist. They performed with musicians of different nationalities and admired Americian R&B often performed by Africian-American artists. They refused to play in South Africa while others did. And, the album in question, The “White” Album is really called The Beatles. After a few albums that had very colorful album covers, The Beatles wanted to focus on the music. To symbolize this they wanted an album cover as blank as a piece of white paper. It was nicknamed the White Album, but this had no racial significance.

    Thanks for listening.

  14. seriously…i know there is always a legal side to everything, but if the Beatles or Jay-Z don’t give a damn, then why should other people? Just enjoy the music that Danger Mouse has mixed. It’s really not a big deal. And it’s really good; I especially like “brush your shoulders off.” And you people can go ahead and say that i’m being ignorant or overlooking the important stuff, but I’m not. The important thing is that it’s all good. Peace mang

  15. This is silly.

    Why not allow any artist to be sampled as long as the original work is given credit? Just make Danger Mouse mention on the CD that Jay-Z rapped and the Beatles did the original songs which were remixed by Danger Mouse, and the problem is solved.

    Even make him pay a royalty fee if you like. Just don’t give EMI complete control over his work.

  16. I just heard about The Grey Album on NPR tonight and I came straight home and downloaded the whole thing. Then I pulled out my Beatles albums and experienced them anew. Yes, it’s blatant illegal use of copyrighted material, but it has really rekindled my love for the Beatles.

    I wonder if EMI intended to stir up such intense public interest? It seems like it might have backfired on them. I’m sure there are plenty of people who, upon hearing about The Grey Album, are now illicitly downloading Beatles songs instead of listening to old vinyls like me. And at least for me, a middle-class white suburban mom, I would probably never have heard The Grey Album if it hadn’t been on NPR.

    I really think that if this could be worked out civilly somehow, a lot of young people would get interested in the Beatles. And while that could lead to more illegal downloading, at least some of them would actually buy a CD or two. Why don’t record companies seize the opportunity to use these cultural phenomena to their and the artists’ advantage?

  17. In my eyes this whole argument (the one about mash-ups/bootlegs in general, not just The Grey Album) is one of business.

    EMI are a large and successful business, they do what they do to generate wealth. Fine. The crux of the matter for me is that The Grey Album does not in any way represent any threat to EMI’s income. Period. Nor does it pose a threat to Jay-Z’s income.

    I refuse to believe that a Beatles’ fan would not buy a copy of The White Album because he or she can hear a significant portion of it on The Grey Album. Similarly, no Jay-Z fan is going to accept the Grey Album as a substitute for The Black Album. He or she may well download it, but I will bet my bottom dollar they already own a copy of The Black Album.

    If anything, The Grey Album represents a positive income stream for EMI. To the best of my knowledge, no remix has ever been released ebfore which uses one album as a musical source in such a wholesale manner, and certainly not with the recognition given to that source, as is the case with Dangermouse’s work. I’m from Liverpool, so have literally been raised with The Beatles, and fully appreciate what an excellent outfit they are, but the majority of hip-hop listeners but there are experiencing them fully for the fist time and that may just bring in a few new fans of the Fab Four.

    Personally, I’d really like to see the sales figures for The White Album and the rest of The Beatles back catalogue for the next six months.

  18. THIS IS ART!!! the cd is amazing so wicked cant describe it with words…. people should recognize this as art not stealing music or what not … its amazing and a musical masterpeice…

  19. This is corporate America bullshit at it’s best.. If any of the surviving Beatles’ actually owned the rights to their music on The White Album and were truly upset, then fine, pull the record. But if EMI is just pissed off that Danger Mouse took two seperate works of art from two entirely diffrent genres and they ain’t make a dime off of it then Fuck ‘Em. Like it or not The Grey Album is now a part of hip-hop history, and they can’t stop us all from mirroring the record.One

  20. JUAN J. LUGO says:

    I HAVE AN MD PLAYER FROM SONY AND I WANT A COPY OF THE GREY ALBUM THAT I CAN DOWNLOAD TO MY MD PLAYER. CAN ANYONE HELP ME? PLEASE CONTACT ME!
    JUAN J. LUGO

  21. Tanisha C., says:

    I am one of Jay-Z’s biggest fans and thought the “Black Album” could not get any better…until now. The “Grey Album” gives you a whole new insight into Jay’s lyrics and puts a different spin on your feelings to the work. It also gave me a stronger interest of the Beatles’ work. I have always been a hip-hop lover but never been one to dwell into old school rock or pop but this is really making me go out to purchase the “White Album”. EMI needs to understand that by supporting the “Grey Album” more and more fans will support the White Album as well. EMI just let Danger Mouse do his thing 🙂