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RIAA's Mixtape Crackdown Sends a Mixed Message

by biggtimm / January 30, 2007 9:33 PM PST

Published: June 16, 2005
Late on the night of May 13, a hip-hop promoter named Justo Faison died in a car crash in Virginia. And last week, on June 8, the East Village record and video shop Mondo Kim's was raided by the New York Police Department. What do these two stories have in common? Here's a hint: it's cheap, popular and illegal.

Faison was the industry's most energetic promoter of hip-hop mixtapes, the unlicensed compilations (almost always on CD, despite the name) of unreleased new songs, current hits, never-to-be-released freestyles and unofficial remixes. To keep (or get) hard-core listeners excited, rappers are expected to maintain a mixtape presence by supplying DJ's with tracks and also by collaborating with them to release "hosted by" mixtapes. Thanks to Faison, the mixtape world even had its own annual ceremony: he created and produced the yearly Mixtape Awards, a fittingly raucous celebration; this year's attendees included Sean Combs, who won a lifetime achievement award, and the Game.

In the days after Faison's death, rappers and DJ's paid their respects, tribute rhymes started circulating online and a fund was started to help pay for his burial and to aid his family. Contributions have come in from many leading hip-hop record labels including Atlantic, TVT, Tommy Boy and Interscope.

While artists and record labels were celebrating Faison's life and work, the Recording Industry Association of America was finding another way to pay tribute to the popularity of mixtapes. On May 12, the day before Faison died, it announced a crackdown on stores that sold "pirated CD's," a term that refers to "mixed tapes and compilation CD's featuring one or more artists," among other products. (The association's taxonomy of piracy defines "counterfeit recordings" as illegal knockoffs of existing commercial CD's, and "bootleg recordings" as illegal recordings of live performances or broadcasts.)

In last week's raid officers confiscated hundreds of CD's, seemingly concentrating on the shop's well-stocked section of hip-hop mixtapes. Five employees were arrested and spent the night in jail. All five were charged with failure to disclose origin of a recording in the second degree and trademark counterfeiting in the third degree.

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