own any dance music compilation CDs? How about remix tapes from your favorite
DJs? Do the names Masterbeat and Go Girl! sound familiar to you? I bet most
of you answered yes to at least one, if not all, of the above questions.
Did you know that many of these compilation CDs and DJ tapes are illegal?
assumed that if a compilation CD was being sold in a reputable store, professionally
packaged just like other mainstream CDs with a nice cover photo and tight
cellophane wrapping, it was legitimate. Many, however, including the above
compilations, are piratical recordings -- material that is produced and
released without first obtaining the proper copyright permission from the
respective record labels and without having paid licensing fees for the
songs that are included.
to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the music industrys
watchdog, the law is quite simple: "Duplicating copyrighted sound recordings
for professional disc jockey purposes without the authorization of the sound
recording copyright owner is a violation of federal and/or state copyright
law." In other words, the unauthorized reproduction or distribution
of recorded music is illegal. The penalties for violations of this nature
can also be quite severe. Civilly, an offender can be liable for anywhere
from $500 to $100,000 for each song that is pirated. Criminally, this same
person can be jailed for up to five years and/or fined up to $250,000.
So why would anyone take such a big risk by producing illegal compilation
tapes and CDs? The answer is as simple as the law: Because there is a huge
demand for these dance music compilations, and very few are currently being
legitimately produced by the major record labels. Oh yeah, music piracy
is also a $4.5 billion dollar business worldwide.
Industry and the Feds
The RIAA declares that in order for DJs to "create and manufacture
multi-disk compilations of top hits," they must first obtain the "appropriate
licenses from the copyright holders." This is no easy task. First,
it typically takes a couple of months for such licenses to be secured, and
we all know how short the life-span is for dance music. Second, it is generally
cost-prohibitive for independent labels, which produce the bulk of dance
music in the U.S., to purchase these licenses as the fee for a single song
often exceeds $1,000. Independent labels also do not have the immense resources
of the major labels. Thus, advertising and distribution of their CDs is
on a much smaller scale, thereby resulting in modest profits, if any at
all. Of course, just because consumer needs are not being met does not make
it okay for people to break the law. But perhaps the law needs to change.
In an effort to "protect the creative content of their member companies
and their artists through an aggressive anti-piracy program," the RIAA,
in conjunction with the FBI and local law enforcement agencies, conducts
random raids of businesses that sell illegal tapes and CDs. Most recently,
a couple of gay businesses in California were targeted which created quite
a commotion in the gay community. Of course, these agencies were not discriminating
based on sexual orientation; it just happened that a lot of press was generated
from these particular raids. This eventually caused the gay community to
question the appropriateness and effectiveness of the raids. Although it
is unfortunate that any business would have to suffer through such a raid,
justified or not, it has finally prompted this very important issue to be
publicly debated on a large scale.
In late July, a malicious e-mail made the rounds inciting its readers to
boycott certain writers and DJs based upon some paranoid delusion that the
RIAA and the FBI were solely targeting gay businesses. The writer of this
e-mail also claimed that earlier in the month a secret task force consisting
of Billboard reporting DJs and record company executives was organized during
the Billboard Dance Summit in Atlanta to help the RIAA and the FBI gather
information on gay stores that sell illegally produced tapes and CDs. This
e-mail provoked many fervent responses including rebuttals from DJ Julian
Marsh, the alleged head of said task force, Nick De Biase, President of
Centaur Entertainment (one of the legitimate companies whose product was
seized in the raids), and Frank Ceraolo, A&R Director at Sony Music,
an outspoken participant in the Billboard Dance Summit who strongly supports
the recording industrys efforts to protect its rights. Michael Paoletta,
the gay dance music editor at Billboard magazine who was singled-out in
the original e-mail as "attacking his own community by writing a scathing
article about the state of dance CDs and illegal compilations,"
also continues to follow this heated debate in Billboard.
As many of you are painfully aware, many songs that you hear in clubs never
see the light of day beyond the 100 or so promotional copies that are sent
to a select group of DJs. Hence, the popularity of the illegal compilation
which is often the only place many club hits can be found. If these songs
were released commercially (and legally), the pirated compilations
popularity would certainly diminish. Not only is this a great opportunity
for the major record labels to virtually eliminate the extremely high demand
for pirated dance music tapes and CDs, but also to produce their own sophisticated
and timely compilations. By releasing dance recordings more rapidly, record
companies can capitalize on their short-lived popularity, both increasing
profits while satisfying growing consumer demand. This may even result in
more cross-over hits and, ultimately, higher profits for both the artists
and the record companies.
Until this happens, however, DJs and manufacturers who continue to illegally
produce and distribute compilations could, ironically, eventually cause
many of the independent dance music labels to go out of business. Popular
dance hits are sometimes pirated on so many different compilations that
the independent labels lose much of the money upon which they rely for survival.
"I think we need to educate the gay community better that the unlicensed
DJ compilations truly hurt the record labels, dance artists, and our community,"
says Nick De Biase of Centaur. "This forces many independents to fold,
which, in the long run, means there will be less new dance music available."
to Change the Law
Major changes need to be made in the production and release of dance music,
as well as to the laws governing the duplication of sound recordings. Joseph
Nicholson, a partner at the prestigious intellectual property law firm of
Kenyon & Kenyon in New York City, thinks "the law will change,
as it always does to keep pace with technology. It may not, however, change
in a way that will automatically take into account the interests of the
DJ community. While it is certainly true that record labels benefit from
DJs who play their music in the clubs, it is ultimately the bottom
line that will motivate change."
Traditionally, domestic record labels have not considered dance music to
be a very lucrative market. Considering the vast amount of pirated dance
music compilations being produced, however, it is clearly time to challenge
this conventional thinking. One only has to look to Europe to see just how
popular (and lucrative) dance music is. In Europe, DJs are often sponsored
by record labels and radio stations. The record labels then work together,
sharing their artists work with each other, to create and promote
tremendously successful, high quality dance music compilations.
Or maybe we should look to Canada, where CD compilation manufacturers pay
a flat fee to record companies for the rights to duplicate music. The industry
trade magazine DJ Times, in their June 1999 issue, asked Matt Oppenheim,
the RIAA associate counsel for civil litigation, if there is any hope for
something like this in the States. He responded, "We have looked at,
from time to time, the issue of whether or not we could create a blanket
licensing system for DJ compilations in the United States. It is not an
issue that is foreclosed, but it is an issue that is very difficult to do,
given United States [antitrust] laws." He went on to say, "Our
goal is to get music to music lovers around the world and perpetuate an
industry that has been very good at rewarding artists and musicians."
When this sentence is coupled with this additional statement by the RIAA,
"One of [our] principle missions is to ensure that copyright legislation
remains adequate in light of a rapidly changing technological environment,
and that appropriate conditions exist to foster creativity in music through
increased investment, production, and distribution," one cannot help
but believe their heart is in the right place. What is needed now, however,
is action. It is time for the music industry to stop talking about the changes
that are needed, and to start making them.
Recording artists, music executives, manufacturers, distributors, retailers,
DJs, and the general public need to work together in an effort to make dance
music more accessible to the masses. Joseph Nicholson agrees. "Right
now I dont see the DJ community as having a particularly strong voice
in the debate, mainly because they dont have a lot of power, even
if they were to become more organized. My suggestion would be for DJs to
try to align themselves with members of the music industry whose interests
are related and try to get their positions developed into a reasonable consensus.
It would be useful to them to have a more collective position, and preferably
one that doesnt ignore the rights of the copyright owners."
If you, the valuable consumer, want to see more dance
music legitimately produced and released in the United States,
in a timely manner, please contact the record labels and let
them know how you feel. It may be as simple as writing letters
expressing your thoughts, or as complex as organizing structured
lobbying groups to alter the record labels perception
of dance music and, eventually, to persuade the Department
of Justice to reconsider the antiquated laws currently governing
the reproduction of sound recordings. Only then will the United
States finally be able to compete with Europe in the dance
music arena with you, the American consumer, emerging as the
real winner in the end.