Why Are Police Going After Mixtapes… And Why Are They Bringing Along RIAA Reps?
from the are-they-really-that-stupid? dept
You may recall the story from about four years ago of the RIAA getting a SWAT team to raid a popular DJ for making mixtapes. Of course, mixtapes are pretty common — especially in (but not limited to) the hiphop world. Hell, remember Lily Allen was distributing her own mixtapes off of her own website, which she later claimed was controlled by EMI. Mixtapes tend to be considered a “murky” area of copyright law. In most cases, they do involve some level of infringement, mixed with some authorized works. They’re often used to promote a new artist, by mixing his or her work with more established artists. Record labels and producers regularly send out pre-release tracks to top DJs hoping to get them into a hot mixtape, knowing that it will be a boon to those artists.
Of course, when they do so, it’s never with an explicit license that this is okay. I’ve seen directly how these things work, and it usually involves an email — from a label or a “promoter” hired by the label — sent to a DJ or to a popular music blog, highlighting some new song that they want to push. Everyone involved knows what’s happening. The labels want the song out there. But there’s no explicit license, and the whole thing works on the assumption that the labels won’t ever go after the people promoting their work.
But, it doesn’t always work that way. We’ve seen it in some of the domain seizures by Homeland Security, some of which included music blogs that were a part of the blogging side of this promotional equation. And, just like the mixtape arrests a few years back, the same thing appears to be happening again. Emily Kaiser, from Washington City Paper, points us to an article that WCP recently put out describing a police raid of a popular studio because its owner, a popular DJ, was selling some mixtapes.
From the article, it seems pretty clear that, like most mixtapes, this one included a mix of authorized and unauthorized works. While the guy who owns the studio, Jeremy Beaver (or DJ Boom), claims to have the rights to all the music, and claims to have worked with all the artists on the mixtape, it appears, again, that this may be only partially accurate. Beaver, for a time, worked at XM Radio as “director of hip hop programming,” and it sounds, from the article, that he may have taken some liberties in using recordings from his time there. Other songs, however, definitely do involve some big name hip hop artists, like KRS-One, who not only used Beaver’s studio, but created some songs with shoutouts to the studio and Beaver himself.
From a technical standpoint, it seems likely that at least some of the mixtapes were infringing. But, if you end your analysis there, you’re missing the point. These mixtapes are everywhere, and the major record labels quite directly support them all the time. These somewhat random arrests of DJs that the labels themselves rely on seems incredibly short-sighted. From Beaver’s standpoint, while he insists that he has the rights to release all the music as a mixtape, the reality is that he probably views the mixtape as something of a portfolio of work that he’s had some hand in, whether producing at his studio or via his former work at XM.
Both things make sense. Mixtapes as a promotional vehicle have been fantastic and tremendously valuable to the industry and to many, many artists — which is why all of the major record labels support them quite a bit. On top of that, the ability for a producer DJ to be able to show off his or her skills in a portfolio also makes sense. The problem, of course, is that due to the way copyright laws are set up today, it can likely be against the law. That’s a problem with the law — not with the makers of mixtapes.
The second big problem here, however, is the role (of course) of the RIAA in all of this. It likes to put its head in the sand concerning the popularity and value of mixtapes, but the really troubling part is that it appears to have actively taken part in this particular raid:
Beaver says he caught sight of a man in a dark suit standing in the background who resembled the late comedian W.C. Fields. Fields, he recalls, seemed to ooze authority and contempt. He eventually told Beaver who he was, or at least what he represented: the Recording Industry Association of America.
This raises all sorts of questions. Why would the police allow an RIAA representative to come along on a “bust”? Bringing a private corporate interest along on a raid does not seem reasonable. Of course, the flipside remains an important question as well: what are the police doing busting down mixtape creators anyway? The whole thing seems like a typical boondoggle of epic proportions involving clueless law enforcement officials and hamfisted RIAA reps, seeking to “make a statement,” by going after the very people they rely on to promote their work.