July 17, 2004

The Conet Project: Minnow Mauls Shark in Copyright Action, Reissues Classic CD Set

The Conet Project is a landmark 4 CD set that documents the intriguing phenomena of “numbers stations”- shortwave transmissions of voices endlessly reciting sequences of numbers which apparently served as coded messages for Cold War era spies. It was originally released in the late 90’s and, in 2002, a sizable chunk (1 min 3sec) of one of its recordings ended up in a track on the universally acclaimed album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco. (The name of that album is taken from a Conet Project track which featured a woman repeating this phrase.) In response, Irdial sued Wilco’s label, WEA, for breach of copyright and, in June this year, they received a healthy settlement from the “infringing” major label.

All of which has raised a certain amount of ire in online “information-wants-to-be-free” circles. After all, how can one claim copyright in recordings taken straight from radio stations?... If you’re in America, it seems you can’t – the simple recording of a pre-existing radio transmission doesn’t have the requisite originality to give rise to copyright. (Although there are still issues of originality arising in the “selection and arrangement” of recorded material.) The case was played out, however, in the UK where the “fixing of a work” in a particular format instantly gives rise to copyright. (There’s an interesting discussion of the issues in the different jurisdictions here.)

The upshot of all this legal activity is that Irdial has apparently used their settlement to reissue the Conet Project, which you can purchase from the die-hard Project fans at Aquarius Records. Unfortunately, it comes with a hefty US$62 price tag… But if you’re not using it for commercial purposes, you don’t need to pay that because the otherwise-litigious folk at Irdial offer a free download of all 4 CDs on their website.

Posted by Warren at July 17, 2004 03:34 AM | Field Recordings