Musical Theft or Musical Art?

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Sigi Esparza
11/02/11
Dr. Philip Jenks
English 160
MWF 1-1:50

Musical theft or Musical art?
Have you ever dreamt about becoming a famous musical artist one day? Maybe you might try to accomplish this by writing some of your own lyrics and adding them to the instrumentals of an already famous song. Well you might want to think twice about that due to a little thing known as the Copyright law. If you don’t, you could soon be receiving a cease-and desist letter in your mailbox, and/or possibly some legal action as well. If you do not believe me just do a quick search on Danger Mouse and you shall see the story of the hip-hop artist who received a feared cease-and-desist for his “Grey Album”. According to an article from the University of Iowa, Danger Mouse’s, along with many other musical artists’ careers have been cut short due to the dreaded “Copyright Act of 1909”. In early 2004, artist Danger Mouse created a mastermind mix of hip-hop music known as the “Grey Album”. He derived this album simply by taking instrumentals from the Beatles’ White Album and vocals from Jay-Z’s black album to mash-up a completely unique mix known as the “Grey Album”. Soon enough, Danger mouse began receiving cease-and-desist letters from the huge music enterprise known as EMI. The “Grey Album” was soon banned and Danger Mouse’s career was soon shot due to what could be considered as musical embezzlement. Many believe that the using of another artists work as your own is not stealing, it is simply art. These days, new musical artists should be careful about the music they make. If it contains any material from a previous musical artist, it could be known as robbery, not art. I disagree. I proclaim that if someone goes through the trouble of making or renovating new material then it should be considered their own, and thus also considered art and not theft.

Many music owners believe that because of copyright, all the music that they make is marked as theirs and only theirs. They believe that if you use their material without their consent or permission it is against the law. This is in fact untrue. Along with the Copyright Act of 1909 there is also a Compulsory right that comes along. This Compulsory right allows musical artists to remake and record their own versions of a previously recorded song simply by registering the cover and paying the mechanical license fee. So with this compulsory right any artist that remakes music should be safe, right? Wrong. Danger Mouse hasn’t been the only artist charged with stealing, there have been many others. In 1991, the famous group known as U2 sued a not so famous group known as Negativland for allegedly sampling from one of U2’s songs, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for”. Personally, I observe art as taking previously made works and improvising, or incorporating your own ideas to create an entirely new work or creation. The Oxford English Dictionary defines art as. “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power”. That is precisely what Danger Mouse and Negativland did. They took previously made works of musical art, incorporated their own ideas and came up with something which was previously old, but is now artistically new. Many musical artists believe in coming up with new music simply by “mashing it up”. In 2001, a new form of creating music entered the pop-culture era, it was known as “mashups”. To “mashup” is to take two or more different musical works and incorporate ideas from both songs into a new completely unique and innovative song. The “Grey Album” by Danger Mouse was possible through the use of “mashup”. He took great work from The Beatles’ “black album” and great work from Jay-Z’s “white album” to create an overall great new work of art. Many of these remixes made by artists don’t even produce a lot of profit, yet major...
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