Tuesday, February 24 will be a day of coordinated civil disobedience: websites will post Danger Mouse's Grey Album on their site for 24 hours in protest of EMI's attempts to censor this work.
DJ Danger Mouse created a remix of Jay-Z's the Black Album and the Beatles White Album, and called it the Grey Album. Jay-Z's record label, Roc-A-Fella, released an a capella version of his Black Album specifically to encourage remixes like this one. But despite praise from music fans and major media outlets like Rolling Stone ("an ingenious hip hop record that sounds oddly ahead of its time") and the Boston Globe (which called it the "most creatively captivating" album of the year), EMI has sent cease and desist letters demanding that stores destroy their copies of the album and websites remove them from their site. EMI claims copyright control of the Beatles 1968 White Album.
Danger Mouse's album is one of the most "respectful" and undeniably positive examples of sampling; it honors both the Beatles and Jay-Z. Yet the lawyers and bureaucrats at EMI have shown zero flexibility and not a glimmer of interest in the artistic significance of this work. And without a clearly defined right to sample (e.g. compulsory licensing), the five major record labels will continue to use copyright in a reactionary and narrowly self-interested manner that limits and erodes creativity. Their actions are also self-defeating: good new music is being created that people want to buy, but the major labels are so obsessed with hoarding their copyrights that they are literally turning customers away.
This first-of-its-kind protest signals a refusal to let major label lawyers control what musicians can create and what the public can hear. The Grey Album is only one of the thousands of legitimate and valuable efforts that have been stifled by the record industry-- not to mention the ones that were never even attempted because of the current legal climate. We cannot allow these corporations to continue censoring art; we need common-sense reforms to copyright law that can make sampling legal and practical for artists.