RIAA Cracks Down on Mixtapes (Again)

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April 14, 2011 by DJ Elroy


Interesting article here. If you don’t want to click thru the above link, I’ve quoted the best parts at the bottom of this post. But will this story (or others) change the way the DJ culture works with mixes?

Mixtapes have been around since the 70s (but didn’t become widespread until the 1980s). I’ve put together dozens of mixtapes myself. Remember when we were told “If your mix is labeled ‘For Promotional Use Only’ you’d be safe? Not necessarily true. Or that nothing could happen if you weren’t making any money, if you weren’t actually selling your mix… I know people that would “give away” their mixtapes “for donations” or maybe charge the cost of materials for the disc (or cassette) but say the mix was free. Little things like that. None would really hold up if the situation got taken to court, but local DJs are relatively small beans in a big pot.

And now as a blogger I’m getting free music thrown at me daily from the labels and the artists themselves. Will the RIAA demand money from me for the use of this? It’s a different situation, these people are giving me music to help promote them. But does this matter to the money-hungry RIAA? Apparently not.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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