Grey Album goes Gold

By Jon Newton 2/25/04

Hats off to Rebecca (ladies first : ), Nicholas and Holmes at DownhillBattle.

Yesterday, they really showed the labels it's time to pay attention.

The music industry (and industry is exactly the right word) literally controls the world of music. It's had consumers by the throat for so long that its components - chiefly, the Big Five record labels - have come to believe their own PR: that they're in control.

But the times, they are a-changin'. And fast. A critical mass is building.

The tremendous success of DownhillBattle's Grey Tuesday floored a lot of people, especially EMI.

"After a quick preliminary survey of sites that hosted files during Grey Tuesday, we are certain that the Grey Album was the number one album in the country yesterday (by a lot)," says DHB here.

"Danger Mouse 'moved more units than Norah Jones and Kanye West, and the Grey Album easily went gold in a day (over 100,000 copies).

That's power. And it's from the people.

It all started when EMI began shouting the odds about DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, a mix compiled from Jay-Z's Black Album and The Beatles' White Album and which started showing up all over the Net, as well as offline.

Cease! - said EMI. Desist!

Nick & Co were offended, correctly thinking no one has the right to dictate how an artist creates a work, or what material he or she uses.

EMI begged to differ. It controls all Beatles sound recordings for Capitol Records, it said, and the Grey Album contains nought but copyrighted material - its copyrighted material for which it hasn't been paid. Therefore, it's illegal.

DownhillBattle said stuff it, and began a protest under which scores of sites around the world promised to make the Grey Album available online on Grey Day - Tuesday, February 24.

There followed around 150 emails from one J. Christopher Jensen, employed by EMI's New York lawyers Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, grimly threatening anyone who didn't:

Strangely, J. Christopher's missives didn't seem to have a lot of effect and more than 170 sites carried the album.

The New York Times wrote about it. "By yesterday afternoon some of the Web masters of the protesting sites said they had served 85 to 100 copies of the album, while other reported as many as 1,000 downloads," it said here.

E! Online carried, Grey Tuesday: Copyright or Wrong? MTV News headlined it, the BBC News slugged it Beatles remix web protest and NME covered GREY DAY.

Lawrence Lessig, too, had an opinion. On his blog, among other things he wrote:

Should the law give DJ Danger Mouse the right to remix without permission?

I think so, though I understand how others find the matter a bit more grey.

Should the law give DJ Danger Mouse a compulsory right to remix? That is, the right, conditioned upon his paying a small fee per sale?

Again, I think so, and again, you might find this a bit less grey.

But should the record companies give artists the right to choose to free their content so that artists like DJ Danger Mouse could remix without seeking permission first?

There is nothing grey about that question. It is absolutely black and white. Artists should at least have the right to free their content to mash or remix. And record companies absolutely should not stand in the way of at least that.

After doing so much to destroy their reputation in the eyes of most consumers and artists, signaling at least this would be a useful first step towards showing that the record companies care about ?their? artists first.

Over to you, EMI ...

Jon Newton is the editor of and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.

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