The Record Producer and the Law (DJ Danger Mouse)

Having been the subject of cyber activism himself, it is still a sore subject for Brian Burton, also known as DJ Danger Mouse—one of the successful producers of today.  Three years ago, he was in the news for an artwork that was roundly condemned by a certain record company.  Well, if you had the extraordinary idea to ‘mash-up’ Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles self-titled album, you would expect a strong reaction, wouldn’t you?  Originally titled The Black-White Album, it was instantly and infamously nicknamed the Grey Album by the media and supporters. This linguistic twist of the title highlighted his use of the Beatles’ music without permission and, as a consequence, legal trouble soon followed.

The problem for those, like myself, who admire his creativity is, how do you convince a corporate body retrospectively that this album is of immense value as a work of art and should be given copyright clearance in order for that value to be recognized and, perhaps, bring more capital to the industry as a result?  Some people who heard it may have loathed it due to personal musical tastes—but, importantly, that is not the reason why the industry did not want to recognize the album’s creative significance and the imagination and skill that Burton put into it as a producer.  Yet, this controversial album brought new musical experience and meanings out of the pre-existing work of Jay-Z and the Beatles.  Therefore, I believe Burton should rightfully be considered the author of the album; it is, after all, his creation—his ‘Re-Mix’.  If producers, musicians, academics, and others are going to be deprived of gaining inspiration by listening to such creations, then they will always be driven to find a way of hearing and supporting such works, even if it is illegal. This raises a fundamental question: can aesthetic arguments ever override legal judgments?