Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This is Crazy: RIAA Stomps on Hip Hop

This ought to be very interesting, the RIAA now seems to be attacking Hip Hop. This article broke today about mix tape dj's in Atlanta being arrested for piracy, counterfeiting and bootlegging. DJ Drama and DJ Cannon were arrested in Atlanta, and the local news is saying basically that it's piracy. These guys are huge mix tape dj's, and making a mix tape, or re-mix, or mashup is widely accepted as legal fair use. In an unforeseen turn of events the popo has seized absolutely everything including the contents of their recording studio, merchandise, promotional material, and even jacking their cars. In fact - it was reported by Fox Atlanta that it was a swat raid of their recording studio.

XXLMag tells it best:

DJ Drama and fellow Aphilliates DJ Don Cannon were arrested in Atlanta on Tuesday and charged with racketeering, following a raid on the group’s Gangsta Grillz recording studio. According to Fox 5 News in Atlanta, a Fulton County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team executed a search warrant at the studio, located at 147 Walker St. in downtown Atlanta. The investigators seized as many as 50,000 mixtapes and arrested the two men on charges of making and selling counterfeit CDs. Authorities also confiscated, as evidence, all of the group’s computers, recording equipment, money and financial documents, as well as their cars. Fulton County booking records show that Cannon and Drama are being held without bond.

Mix tapes are used in clubs, and the DJ's that create them can become stars in their own right if they are good enough. Some rap stars even hire DJ's to remix versions of their songs for radio. It's long been accepted that these DJ's and the mix tape culture help sell retail records. According to this article, in most cases the artists and the record companies have given their permission for the music to be used in mix tapes - and the record companies even supply the music for the dj's. And this article claims that DJ Drama was pushing rap star T.I. a year ago and pushed his album to gold status in a week. If that's the case, then why would record labels allow the RIAA stormtroopers to cut of their built-in source of publicity??

You can see the ties between the labels, the hip hop artists, and the mix tape dj's when you read headlines like "Asylum Records, a division of Warner Music Group, recently announced a partnership with the Atlanta-based Aphilliates Music Group. Founded in 2003 by DJ Drama, DJ Sense and Don Cannon, the Aphilliates Music Group is comprised of a number of mixtape and artist affiliated DJs. Under the new agreement, Asylum will provide marketing, sales and distribution support to the Aphilliates roster of artists...". That article may be 4 years old, but clearly it shows that DJ's Drama and Cannon were working for/with a major label in the past. How do you do from that to 4 years later being arrested for creating the exact same mix tapes?

The RIAA has turned these 2 mix tape dj's into martyr's in an exploitave and fear based attack. This XXL article says the bulk of the music confiscated was artist sanctioned original music, and The mixtape game has always been a grey one. Artists mainly utilize them as promotional devices. Labels themselves have entire promotional branches in charge of distributing new music to mixtape DJs.

In the scheme of things - just because the labels give them the music doesn't make it any more legal than paying a radio to play certain songs a certain number of times. The first issue is - is it legal or not? It could become a fair use issue for those creating mixes or "mashups" for distribution on the web. Is it legal if you give it away (and illegal if you try to sell it, a "mix" that is)? There are hundreds, if not thousands of web sites that have mix tapes for sale and / or download. Will this (case) change the hip culture, or the "underground" music scene forever?