Droplift press [Home]

The following is an article from Inside.com:
(Original article http://www.inside.com/story/Current?art_id=7997&podId;=9)



Mau-Mauing the Music Biz, Audio Pranksters Sneak Their CDs Onto the Shelves
By Alex Pappademas
Thursday, August 10 06:51 p.m.

Think of it as Napster gone Dada.

Inspired by tape-tweaking wags like Negativland and the Evolution Control Committee, operatives for a shadowy underground-music collective known as the Droplift Project are waging a cheeky guerilla campaign against sampling laws and traditional music distribution, two old-guard systems they say are controlled by the same set of corrupt cultural gatekeepers.

During the last two weeks, they have covertly planted copies of a compilation CD, The Droplift Project, onto the shelves of unsuspecting chain record stores across the country. The 29 audio-collagists who contributed tracks to the CD served as the ''droplifters'' -- that's shoplifters in reverse. The saboteurs stroll into the stores, remove the Droplift CDs from their pants or backpacks, and file the collection of ''masterworks of...media appropriation and other illegal tricks'' next to discs by the likes of 'N Sync or Eminem, clerks none the wiser. And when the Droplift collective is not sneaking a CD into record-store inventories, they're giving it away in four different formats online, complete with downloadable cover art, and encouraging fans to press their own Droplift CD-Rs at home.

When it comes to music, most of today's intellectual-property radicals are hyped on technologies like Napster, Gnutella and Freenet, innovations that threaten to consign old-school music retailers and CDs to the dustbin of history. Droplifting, by contrast, is a form of culture-jamming prankery so quixotically low-tech it's charming, evocative of samizdat and that pie-throwing anarchist who's creamed Bill Gates, among others. There's always a chance that the CD will help the Droplift bands find a larger audience. But sticking your CD on store shelves without the knowledge or approval of the store's management -- then hoping against hope that somebody finds it, and then is curious enough to try to buy it -- makes subway busking look like a killer business model.

''We're not making any money from this,'' says project organizer Tim Maloney, who contributed his own piece ''Thunderclock'' to The Droplift Project, which had an initial pressing of 1,000. ''We actually lost a bunch of money.'' Ultimately, the Droplifters seem to have a higher goal in mind: turning the distribution of music into conceptual art.

The scheme took shape on Snuggles, an e-mail list for fans of Negativland, the notorious cut-and-paste Bay Area musical collective. Discussion of ''fair use'' and other copyright issues thrived on Snuggles, and listees frequently traded tapes of their own sample-based music with one another. Maloney, a filmmaker/artist who lives in Los Angeles, hopes the Droplift CD, and the novel manner in which it's being distributed, will expand the copyright dialogue to people outside the Snuggles community.

''There are some gray areas of law that we're talking about here,'' Maloney says. ''There are some not-very-steadfast rules...about copyright and the use of sampled material that come up in the courts all the time. We feel like the work we're doing is not only interesting in and of itself, but it's got a lot of political aspects to it.''

According to Droplift webmaster Joe Scagnetti -- an Atlanta-based computer-science student whose band, Social Security, contributed the track ''Loder Runner (Droplift Flakes)'' -- protesting the Recording Industry Association of America's stance on sampling was also a goal. Some pressing plants, he says, won't even reproduce CDs that contain uncleared samples. ''The RIAA was pressuring all of the manufacturers,'' Scagnetti says, ''claiming that they were responsible for any infringement. Since it's pretty hard to press a CD without a CD manufacturer, and almost all of the manufacturers were afraid to press anything that sounded remotely like so-called illegal samples, it was looking pretty grim for audio-collage artists.''

(In a memo dated September 1998, posted on Negativland's Web site, the RIAA -- responding to a grass-roots Net campaign organized by the band -- says it has revised its CD Plant Guidelines to allow for the possibility of ''fair use,'' adding the following sentence: ''Some recordings presented for manufacture may contain -- as part of an artist's work -- identifiable 'samples' or small pieces of other artists' well-known songs. In some instances this sampling may qualify as 'fair use' under copyright law, and in other instances it may constitute copyright infringement. There are no hard and fast rules in this area and judgments on both 'fair use' and indemnification must be made on a case-by-case basis. RIAA, therefore, recommends that you decide how to handle such situations in consultation with your own attorneys.'')

So far, Maloney says, no one's been caught droplifting CDs, maybe because it's not really the kind of thing security guards watch for. (As Scagnetti puts it: ''No one expects you to pull CDs out of your pants.'') As for people buying the disc, Maloney says he's heard from a few people who have come across it in their local record store and have perplexed the staff by trying to buy it.

Usually, Maloney says, the store ''can't find a bar code on it, because there isn't one. They look it up in the computer, it isn't there, assistant managers are called, finally a manager is called, and overwhelmingly the response has been the manager lets the customer take the CD for free. It's not in the inventory, it's not in the computer, they don't know where it came from... And they let people walk out with it.''