A story in today’s New York Times (here) tells the story of the arrest of DJ Drama, creator of the “Gangsta Grillz” HipHop mix-up compilations. The story is reminiscent of the bust of Mondo Kim’s in the East Village, Manhattan. This bust, led by RIAA, was under the Georgia R.I.C.O statute, according to the Times. Brad Buckles of RIAA is quoted in the story as saying “A sound recording is either copyrighted or not.”
Mr. Buckles’ remark is true enough, but does not necessarily end the matter. First, why isn’t the state proceeding preempted by the Copyright Act? Presumably, the base conduct complained of was the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works. No state can make such actions a crime. Perhaps the indictment (and DJ Drama was charged with a felony offense according to the Times) was for the operation of an organization engaged in criminal activity and not for the criminal activity itself, but this may be a bit too glib.
And then there is the question of the performing artists’ own participation – and therefore authorization – of the compilations. According to the Times story “most of DJ Drama’s mixtapes begin with enthusiastic endorsements from the artists themselves.” Have the artists already transferred all rights such that their permission is ineffective?
Finally, there is the “biting the hand that feeds you issue”; as the Times observes: “It also seems clear that mixtapes can actually bolster an artists’s sales.” The RIAA apparently thinks otherwise, and its data presumably comes directly from the labels. Moreover, the labels are interested in their relationship with their artists. It would be instructive to hear the labels’ side of the issue, even by an anonymous posting.