The Grey Album, Copyrights and the Law

I’m writing this listening to The Grey Album, a remix of Jay Z’s Black Album with the Beatles’ White Album. Normally I don’t go out of my way to find Jay Z remixes but this one is illegal and that makes it irresistible. I suspect that a lot of people are in the same boat as me, and this album would have never been heard of (let alone heard) if EMI wasn’t trying to censor it.
What surprises me about the discussion on Slashdot is the number of comments that basically say “So what, this is illegal and Danger Mouse shouldn’t have done it in the first place.” What they don’t realize is that copyright law is built on places where it was broken in the past.
When cable TV first came out they were including broadcast stations on their cable lines without any permission whatsoever. They pirated the public broadcasts and the government forced the broadcasters to license their broadcasts to the cable companies. Because they “stole” copyrighted material we now have a common sense solution and the broadcast companies make more money. (I can’t find a good citation to back me up aside from Cory Doctorow’s speech)
Going back even further, take a look at music on the radio. They pirated music because there wasn’t any other solution at the time. The government at the time realized that it wasn’t in the interest of furthering arts and sciences to limit how music was spread. The solution was to have a flat license fee doled out by an organization known as ASCAP that distributes payment based on how many plays a song gets.
So when you say that sampling or P2P sharing is illegal, you may be correct (depending on the circumstances). But the more important question is whether it’s best for them to be illegal in furthering arts and sciences.
(Completely off topic: no more linkdumps, they’ve been moved to the sidebar, or you can see them at del.icio.us)

4 thoughts on “The Grey Album, Copyrights and the Law

  1. George,
    One nit – ASCAP is not a license fee, ASCAP is an organization – The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Members of ASCAP can register their copyrighted works with ASCAP. Broadcasters, whether radio, TV, cable, satellite, etc, can purchase licenses from ASCAP to broadcast ASCAP works. ASCAP then pays the composers and performers from the fees they receive from the licenses. More at http://www.ascap.com

  2. Likewise, I never would have heard of the album without it hitting legal hot water. In completely unrelated news, I’m gonna go fire up Acquisition now…
    No need to throw in my $0.02 on copyright law; I suspect it’d be choiring to the preachers…

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