Time flies—it's been ten years since Negativland (I don't know whether to call them a band or media artists or something else) published an utterly brilliant CD single containing their hilarious cover of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and a long and brutally funny audio collage featuring an unauthorized recording of Casey Kasem being incredibly nasty behind the scenes on his Top Forty radio show. For those unfamiliar with the case, it's well worth reading Negativland's articles about intellectual property; fascinating stuff, even when I disagree with them. Island Records, of course, sued Negativland and the small record label that had published them, and ordered all copies of the CD destroyed. (My take is that these particular items seem like pretty legitimate fair use on parody grounds, and that Island overreacted in a big way, but that Negativland was naive to think there would be no problem with publishing a CD that said U2 in huge letters on the front cover just before the release of a major new album by U2.) But apparently some recordings survived; Negativland has featured MP3 and streaming-audio versions of the pieces from the CD on their site for a couple years now, apparently without any fallout from Island.

Which came to mind partly because someone at lunch today mentioned that they'd attended a U2 concert last night, and partly because the MP3 files just played in my random-rotation MP3 jukebox on my computer (all legitimate recordings), and I was reminded of just how funny these two pieces are. I suspect they'd be much funnier (although also much more disillusioning) to anyone who listened to Casey Kasem in the '80s; I'd never heard him before this recording, though I'd heard of him.

Also worth noting that there's now a new release on CD of the Negativland pieces along with lots of related material, titled These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit; it's published by a label in an undisclosed location, and is presumably a pirate release, since Negativland was forbidden to publish this stuff any more, but Negativland is selling it on their site.

The whole case seems to me to have prefigured more recent and higher-profile IntProp cases in the past couple years. I can't say I agree with the Negativland merchandise that says "copyright infringement is your best entertainment value"; on the other hand, there are legitimate questions about what should be allowed as fair use. A lot of these issues are explored in Negativland's big book Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, which again makes fascinating reading even if you disagree with it.

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