“Into the Grey” provides an excellent overview, history, and analysis of The Grey Album. This album stands as arguably the most famous and most controversial instance of mash-ups. This text covers what The Grey Album was, how it was produced, the response of record and publishing companies, and the subsequent response by disobedient mash-up and fair use advocates. Further, legal implications and defense possibilities of sampling are discussed, but in the specific context of mash-ups.
The Grey Album, produced by Brain Burton a.k.a. DJ Danger Mouse, is a mash-up album that uses the full vocal content of Jay-Z’s Black Album mixed with instrumentals that can all be traced to the Beatles’ White Album. Every drum hit and instrumental chord was sampled from the Beatles’ album and used as beats for Jay-Z’s vocals to seamlessly rap over. Burton’s mash-up album caught like wildfire, popping up in record stores and on countless websites. The issue, however, was that Burton never received permission from any copyright owners of the Beatles or Jay-Z.
As a result, the Beatles’ record and publishing companies sent Burton a cease and desist letter, explaining how he was infringing their copyrights. He complied and was never brought to court. After only a brief look at the exclusive rights of copyright owners, it is beyond doubt that had the case been brought to court, The Grey Album fully infringed on their rights. Discontent fans didn’t take kindly to this realization though—they organized a day of “civil disobedience” called “Grey Tuesday,” in which hundreds of websites hosted The Grey Album for download.
The author suggests using de minimis laws as a defense, but as we know, this might no longer stand up. Instead, the only viable defense is fair use. This would unlikely be successful because although The Grey Album is highly transformative, it is a commercial product and not intended to criticize or parody. The core artistic work is also appropriated. And since copyright owners enjoy the rights to control adaptations through licenses—where they can make money by choosing to license—The Grey Album might negatively affect the ability to license further samples, and therefore is of potential harm.
This comment is an excellent resource for my project. It first provides a thorough overview of The Grey Album and following episodes. This albums stands as an example of what would potentially happen to me if I chose to release my mash-ups. More important, however, is the discussion of fair use defense for mash-ups and the opinion that it would never hold up in court. This addresses a potential defense for my mash-ups and why it might not work.