Want to avoid getting sued by the Recording Industry Association of America? Here are some tips that may keep you safer (obviously, we can’t guarantee anything):
Alternately, you can be a good little consumer and pay for everything you listen to—and make sure it’s not a DJ mix CD-R. Hip-hop artists give DJs like Whoo Kid and Green Lantern exclusive tracks and endorsements in the hope of breaking through to the underground or maintaining their rep. A few, like Jay-Z and Method Man, have even circulated samizdat mixes of their own. But mix CDs don’t go through official labels (they’re usually sold by the DJs themselves), and being authorized by star artists is no longer good enough.
RIAA agents, backed up by police, have started to raid Midwestern record stores that carry DJ mixes. On September 23, Berry’s Music in Indianapolis, Indiana, was raided; according to proprietor Alan Berry, police confiscated $10,000 worth of mix discs by the likes of DJ World and DJ Paul Bunyan. “The record labels want the independent record stores out of the business,” Berry says. “They’d rather deal with Target, Best Buy, Circuit City—it’s consolidation, just like any other industry. The RIAA knows that mixes are an integral part of urban stores’ culture and profit margin. By eliminating them, they can eliminate a lot of indie stores.”
City Music, also in Indianapolis, was raided the following week. “They came in and took anything that was on a recordable CD,” manager Jerome Avery says. “The only DJ mixes I had were behind the counter for personal listening, and they confiscated them. How can it be illegal if the artist is making them for the street? They came without a notice—no warrant, no nothing. They’re making up their own laws, if you ask me.”
The City Music raid happened on October 1, the day the enormous Universal Music Group’s new prices went into effect—more bad news for small, independent record stores. Universal’s widely publicized $9.09 wholesale prices only apply to the largest retail chains, and only to stores that are willing to buy 30 copies of a disc at one time. Most smaller stores, though, deal with “one-stop” sub-distributors that can fill orders for a disc or two quickly, and take a markup of their own. And many retailers are frustrated that customers have been coming in for weeks, asking where their $9 CDs are.
Eric Haight of Record World in Petoskey, Michigan, notes that a new Sting album before the price drop cost the store $12.69, with a suggested retail price of $18.98. Now it costs them $10.79, with a retail price of $12.98—the profit margin has been slashed by almost two-thirds, and Universal will no longer help them out with advertising costs. “I think their motives are suspect,” Haight says. “This won’t affect the Best Buys of the world, but I can’t see our store making it through 2004.”