DJ Clampdown

Illicit turntablism.


The music industry's copyright crackdown entered a new phase late last year. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is now pushing police to raid record stores that sell DJ mixes -- CDs assembled by disc jockeys to advertise their ability to assemble other people's tracks into a danceable set.

Selling such discs is quasi-legal at best: While some are endorsed by the artists that appear on them, they hardly ever have the blessing of the labels. And when they're not just passed hand to hand but sold at a gig or in a store, it's easy to accuse the merchant of profiting illegally from other people's work.

On the other hand, it's not clear that the raids have been entirely legal either. "The only DJ mixes I had were behind the counter for personal listening, and they confiscated them," one Indianapolis store manager, Jerome Avery of City Music, told The Village Voice.

Nor are jocks who sell their mixes the only victims of the crackdown, especially now that the industry group is leaning on CD pressing plants as well as stores. Before December, DJ Vivian Host writes in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, "putting out a mix CD was as easy as sending the master and artwork to the plant." Then things changed. "What I discovered," says Host, "was that the RIAA had pressured every CD-manufacturing house from Ottawa, Canada, to Canton, Ohio, into requiring lengthy documents proving that each track a DJ wants to use is licensed -- which meant I needed a lot of paperwork (and cash) to complete my 23-track mix that says 'Promotional Use Only' on it in big letters."

Host isn't sure the crackdown makes sense even if a DJ is breaking the law. She asks: "Wouldn't a label probably pay a street rep twice as much to do the kind of grassroots, targeted street promotion an illegal mix CD offers an up-and-coming artist?"