Grey Tuesday

posted 24 Feb 2004, 12PM | 13 Comments

I am participating in Grey Tuesday as a civil protest against EMI's efforts to censor DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, one of the most outstanding albums produced in recent months. It combines the music of the Beatle's White Album with the vocal tracks from Jay Z's Black Album. Jay Z released a capella versions of his album expressly to encourage this type of creativity. The evolution of hip-hop has long involved a clear understanding that all existing art rests on the shoulders of art that has come before. To allow people to freely share, celebrate and build upon art is to celebrate the artist. Luckily, organizations like Creative Commons allow artists to easily liscense their works in a way that allows reproduction, derivative works, and sampling.

The Grey Album pays as much respect to the talents of Jay-Z as it does to the musical legacy of the Beatles. Unsuprisingly, EMI has shown little interest in the artistic significance of this album, little appreciation for the fact that the popularity of this mix will likely boost sales of Beatles records. It is my sincere hope that EMI will reconsider their attitude towards the use of their music for sampling, and that recording artists will avoid turning their copyrights over to the five major record companies, including EMI. These companies consistently behave as if they are more interested in dollars that they are in honoring the work of their artist. They are.

In the not so distant past, all culture was free. All ideas and arts were free for unlimited consumption, free to build upon and remix. In our modern era of digital distribution, the laws governing intellectual property and copyrights have ushered us into a dark world in which less and less of the culture we consume can be freely digested and reincorporated into new creative endeavors. In the not so distant future, I believe that all culture is destined to be free again.

I am participating in Grey Tuesday as an act of civil disobedience against the laws that allow EMI to prevent the distribution of the following tracks. Under the provisions of Fair Use, it is perfectly legal for you to download and listen to them once to learn about the material in order to make an informed decision about the current laws that govern copyright. The tracks are excellent, and I hope you enjoy them:

The Grey Album

I have removed these tracks as of 12:01 PST on 2/25.
01 - Public Service Announcement
02 - What More Can I Say?
03 - Encore
04 - December 4th
05 - 99 Problems
06 - Dirt Off Your Shoulder
07 - Moment of Clarity
08 - Change Clothes
09 - Allure
10 - Justify My Thug
11 - DJ Danger Mouse Interlude
12 - My 1st Song

Before this protest even began, many of the people who agreed to participate received Cease and Desist letters from lawyers representing EMI. I encourage you to visit to review the unfolding of events surrounding these recordings. I also encourage you to read the Downhill Battle and Mathcaddy responses to the C&D letters received by the owners of those sites, (which are poignant and poignantly clever, respectively). For a list of additional sites participating in the protest, visit Grey

Everybody move to the back of the bus. Keep the air alive.

There are 13 Comments


24 Feb 04 at 04:01AM MacDara Conroy said:

Just to clarify a point you made about encouraging artists to avoid turning over their copyrights to the record companies: the artists own the songs, if they wrote them then they own them and can do as they please with them; however, if the album was recorded on the record company's dime, then the record company owns the copyright in the sound recordings (not the actual songs, just the recordings, but because we only know the songs from the recordings most people get the two confused) and will always hold it unless it is stated in the recording contract that the copyright is transferred to the artist after a certain amount of time. The vast majority of artists have little control over how their recordings are used, and won't retain any control unless it is written into their contracts, or they spend their own money on the recording process.


24 Feb 04 at 06:48AM Amanda said:

Thank you ever so much for doing your part!


24 Feb 04 at 06:58AM rexsavior said:

Huzzah! In addition to participating in this historic protest - you've ended up with some very nice looking grey fruit.


24 Feb 04 at 11:24AM alison said:

grey fruit looks like molecules under a microscope. i like it.


24 Feb 04 at 11:51AM Ryan said:

Do not eat the fruit, it's old and rotten. Stale.

MacDara, thanks for clarifying those points regarding the difference between song and recordings when it comes to copyright.

It's funny to note that artists regularly re-record songs to include them on soundtracks, etc. I imagine that it's also the reason that so many bands release live records.


25 Feb 04 at 04:38PM mwg said:

though i in general agree with the grey-out and ive had the album on non-stop for the last two or so weeks, im not sure what you mean about not-so-distant past ... things have gotten more restrictive not so much de jure as de facto. that is, as technology has made reproduction and distribution easier, the laws already in place to restrict people like publishers has extended (rather than _been_ extended) to consumers. but it's really just a matter of restricting a new option, as opposed to rescinding an old right.

unless by the not-so-distant past, you mean prior to the statute of ann in 1710.

obviously it's not as cut-and-dry as all that. the actual law has become more restrictive in some ways per the sonny bono act extending the number of years of CR (arguable, when you consider years against life expectancy) and less restrictive in others, such as the rise of the defense of parody.


25 Feb 04 at 04:58PM ryan said:

ms. graham, you're right about the "extended" vs "been extended". when I refered to the not so distant past, I really meant a time 100 years ago... and i was speaking in a general way, about ideas and art, rather than specifically about copyrighted works or the equivalent of copyrighted works.

i think it was late, and my points got lost in the vague language ;)


27 Feb 04 at 04:48PM Fluffy the Wonder Dog said:

"It's funny to note that artists regularly re-record songs to include them on soundtracks, etc. I imagine that it's also the reason that so many bands release live records."

Not exactly. The reason this happens is because it's more profitable for the record company. The *music publisher* (a key term) earns royalties when a song is licensed, but the recording artist/record company earn royalties off performance/recordings. Hence it's sometimes cheaper to start with a new recording of an old song by licensing the music directly from the publisher, rather than paying royalties on the already-famous version (though some derivatives go on to become more famous than their originals).


13 May 04 at 09:41PM onetwothree said:

Good lord you're a drama queen. I find it unbelievable that a record company is actually protecting something beautiful (i.e. the Beatles music) from something repulsive (i.e. rap). Normally, a corporation will shit on whatever they can to make a buck.

God Bless EMI.


14 May 04 at 09:40AM Ryan said:

Drama queen? Maybe. EMI has every right to protect their beautiful songs. But art is going to evolve no matter what they do, so it doesn't really matter.

And rap isn't repulsive, dude. It just doesn't speak to you, possibly because you're so sure it's repulsive.


14 May 04 at 01:19PM onetwothree said:

It just doesn't speak to you

Damn right it doesn't.

But you're also right about art evolving. For instance, Picasso saw Cezanne, and...sure evolved.

...But this evolution wasn't Picasso cutting up Cezanne prints, then adding chunks of his own (expletive) into it. Back then, it might have been generally seen as...uh, not art. Just thievery mixed with (expletive).


14 May 04 at 02:02PM Anonymous said:

I think you're right about Picasso, but I also think you're clinging to a conception of what art is that's sort of trapped in the early 20th century.

These days, there's a whole lot of media out there, a whole lot of digital information, a whole lot of logos, a whole lot of music, a whole lot of video. As much as I love Cubism, I'm not interested in imitating or drawing only on artistic approaches from that movement, because it doesn't say enough to me about my modern life or the culture around me. Mixing different kinds of media together to form something new (as I played around with here) does interest me. It's artistis expression that seems relevant to me, even if you don't like it. Is that theft? I guess so. It's also art, satire, and evolution. I 'm building on the past. It's easy, with Google image search.

Where does theft end and original begin? Obviously you don't feel that remixed samples of Beatles songs can be new art. What about a cover of their song Strawberry Fields, played note for note using bagpipes? Art? What if I memorize a print of Picasso's masterpiece Guernica and duplicate it from memory? What if I paint a version of Guernica where all the figures are comprised of strawberries and onions and other foods mentioned in Beatles songs... couldn't that be art?

Have you seen the video of Bush and Blair singing that was made at the start of the war in Iraq? It blends stolen news footage with a stolen song to create a beautiful political statement. Art, humor, and satire into something both beautiful and valuable. It makes a statement more clearly than any article could. And it couldn't exist without what you're calling theft.

All over the world right now, people are coming up with ideas. Other people are taking those ideas and building on them. To me, the difference between remixing ideas/remembered media inside my brain and ideas/digital media in the real world is slight. Either way it's essentially theft, or sharing, or both. Thanks to the internet, it's probably all going to happen whether or not EMI allows express use of their work.

Ownership is important, and I think that artists should be able to retain control of their work for 35 years. After that, give it up to the public domain. Do with my work what you will.

Sorry if I'm being a drama queen, but this stuff is important to me. Looking forward to more of your comments.


15 May 04 at 09:10PM onetwothree said:

By the reflected light of a thousand brass lions, I claim ignorance of the visual arts!

Obviously, a continuum exists where I might pretend a demarkation exists. For instance, the song "Julia" (among those travestied in "The Grey album") lifted some lines from Khalil Gibran..."When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind"...done in undeniable good taste... Well, the link of your's seems to be in good taste as well. At the street level, the question isn't legality but quality.

And so I am trying to turn aesthetic outrage into moral outrage. It's nothing new. People attack Mcdonalds using similar methods (by saying, "McDonalds is poisoning the children", when they really hate the color scheme.)

It occured to me that DJ "Dangermouse" (more thievery, yes?) has had his 15 minutes, and the "Grey Album" will be more likely to turn up in an accidental google search for the "white album" than a record bin...

so long!

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