Today is Dean Grey Tuesday, a net-wide day of protest over Warner Brothers attempt to censor
a stupendous noncommercial mashup album called American Edit
that remixes Green Day's album American Idiot.
For today, websites across the Internet are mirroring the American Edit album and/or turning their page-backgrounds grey. Mashup albums don't hurt the sales of the albums they sample -- at worst, they have no effect on sales, at best they can promote them. Artists who are signed to major labels can avail themselves of labels' legal departments when they want to remix others' work and get their samples cleared. Indie artists, hobbyists and fans don't get legal assistance from labels' high-priced fixers. This is pure patronage: in the old days you couldn't make art unless the King or some bishop granted you permission; today you need permission from a studio executive.
The labels admit this. Last year, EMI made headlines by censoring DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, which remixed the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album. I raised this with an EMI representative at London's Creative Economy conference and she shrugged it off: "What's the problem? We later hired Danger Mouse to make a mashup album for us."
The problem is that copyright law is supposed to decentralize the process of making art, moving the power to authorize art from royalty to the marketplace. Labels have no business setting themselves up as arbiters of what art can and can't be made.
Happy Dean Grey Tuesday. Up yours, Warners.
Update: Matt cooked up this sweet Dalek/Warner lawyer graphic in honor of the day.
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