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Grey Tuesday: RIAA vs. DJ Danger Mouse

"It's illegal, I know that and it may get me in trouble, but if I had thought about that I would have never made what I thought turned out to be one of the best things I ever did," ~DJ Dangermouse

February 24th, 2004 was a day when the online culture of DJs, and appreciators of remix music, took a stand against todayís standards of legal music sampling. Organized by the music advocate group, Downhill battle (http://www.downhillbattle.org/), 170 website posted full copies of the DJ Dangermouse album The Grey Album. Most of these sites had already received "cease and desist" orders from EMI, on behalf of Capitol Records, in regards to use of the Beatleís white album content. At days end over 1 million downloads were recorded of the album from the participating sites.

Illegal-Art.org continues to host MP3's of the Grey Album tracks. http://illegal-art.org/audio/grey.html

Listeners of the Great album were treated to music from both Jay-Zís Black Album, and the Beatleís White Album. The album itself was an independent project by DJ Dangermouse spanning two and a half weeks of fifteen hour days. The mix features background music, and vocals stripped from Beatleís songs, overlaid with lyrics from the acapella version of Jay-Zís album. Jay-Z released the stripped down version of the Black Album so remix artists such as DJ Dangermouse could "remix the hell out of it".

The entire Grey Tuesday protest focused on the RIAAís standards of copyright for music. DJs feel that their craft is protected under Fair Use, by the nature of their artistic expression. The Fair Use Policy under the copyright laws allow people to use copyrighted content in four situations.

1. the purpose and character of the use
2. the nature of the copyrighted work
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used
4. the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Most courts rulings fall on the side of provision 4, where as any perceivable detriment to the original profitability of the copyrighted work would constitute an infringement on the copyright holderís rights.

DJ Dangermouse is only one example of an artistís use of another artist or groupís work. Earlier pop music such as MC Hammerís Canít Touch This, sampled from Rick Jamesí Super Freak, and Vanilla Iceís Ice Ice Baby backbeat from Queenís Under Pressure. More contemporary examples are Beyonce Knowles, and Jessica Simpson.

Some people may agree that the release of the Grey album is an example of one personís artistic creativity, while others may feel that it discredits the work of established groups. It may be hard to determine whether or not DJ Dangermouse is in the right or in the wrong, because Jay-Z did in fact release his work for public use, while at the same time EMI restricts all use of the Beatleís work. Ultimately itís an example of the pressing issue of where the line lies between allowing piracy, or allowing a way to distribute oneís "creative work".

"I'm just worried whether Jay-Z will like it, or 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."
~DJ Dangermouse

Listen to samples of the album here

Reference Links:

Grey Tuesday:
Grey Album and Grey Tuesday Chronical:
Banned Music Report on the Grey Album:

Article Authors:

Alexandre Lessard
Kristina Younan
Ben Barker
Rocco Andreozzi
Nick Ameele

Posted 2005-12-05 09:10:05 by Max Langdon
Comments on this story... (toggle all)

It is not [Seth Burgess, 2005-12-05 11:34:32]

It is not hard to figure out whether or not he is in the wrong. Jay-Z's music was free to use, the Beatles' was not. Just because one half of the work is legal doesn't mean the illegal part is overlooked. It does not matter if you think that everything should be open-source, the fact is, is that it isn't...for now.

unthoughtful response [Lee Batchelor, 2005-12-06 13:05:05]

So I read the article, it was a good article; it read like how an article should and was interesting and intriguing and all that good stuff. I hate remix/hip-hop/rap music in its' entirety no matter how "good" it is according to the rest of the population. I listened to the samples and was very impressed; however, not by the remixer's work, but by the Beatles samples...I think I might go get the White Album.

Grey Tuesday Resp. [Danielle Gagner, 2005-12-06 13:06:36]

Alright, so I don't believe that remixes should be acknowledged as an artists own legit work, but I do believe that people have the right to remix and redistribute as a form of artistic expression and entertainment. I think it's very important that the remixing artist sites all of the songs that s/he is using in the remix. Most remixes are tributes to artists that the dj is inspired by; releasing remixes is something tat should be considered a form of musical art through revision.

Grey Album [Ryan Habeeb, 2005-12-06 23:21:21]

Jay Z intends for DJs like DJ Dangermouse to make remixes of their works and allows them to put out their new work for the public to listen to. Its almost like a new installment of the song. Personally I think it's a cool idea to link the two albums together and don't really see anything wrong.

Grey tuesday [Leiah Pelletier, 2005-12-08 19:11:33]

I think regardless of whether or not DJ dangermouse wanted to express his creativity, his expression infringed on copy rights and no matter how one justifies it, its still illegal. Dangermouse was not givin permission to use the beatle's songs, therefore he should be willing to face whatever the repercussions are. While remixing isnt a bad thing, and is an art unto itself, artist should get permssion first. It would probably prevent alot of headaches over legal issues.

I think pa [Alex Lessard, 2005-12-22 09:21:23]

I think part of the contention of this as well, is that fair use dictates allowance for artistic and creative expression (in vague terms) compouded with the fact that DJ Dangermouse didn't sell this album. It was an internet release, free of charge. Personally, if I wanted the black album, or the white album, I wouldn't download the grey album, and think I had the two components that were used to create it. I think the real case here is that the RIAA doesn't want to accept any type of art affecting their bottom line.

Whose work, and whose permission? [Jon Ippolito, 2005-12-16 06:22:43]

I agree with the respondents like Seth who said that just because half of the Grey Album was free for remixing didn't make the entire album legal. According to the current legal system, different copyrights can be attached to individual pieces of an artifact, which is why for example Batman Returns could be held up because the batmobile drove through an architect's copyrighted courtyard. You have to get permission for all of them.

That said, I was struck by Lee's comment that he didn't like Dangermouse's album but might go and get the Beatle's one. The permission one gets is typically not from the artist--because the label owns the copyright--but what would our legal system be like if copyright could not be transferred from the artist to a corporation? Would Ringo et al. be happy to have their work remixed if it reignited interest in their own work?

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