Caprice says the Listen Vision CDs help with promotion and are akin to a studio release, “the kind of thing Bob Dylan used to do.” He says he’s not interested in working out any rights disputes at the moment. “With each artist, I would have to say, it’s a different case,” he says.
But talk to representatives of some of the other artists Beaver says he’s worked with, and a different pattern emerges. Take Raheem DeVaughn. Michele White, DeVaughn’s assistant manager, says DeVaughn has never been to Listen Vision, despite the fact that his song, “Miss Hi-Heels” appears on one of Beaver’s CDs. “He’s never recorded at the studio before, and he’s never given permission for the song to be used,” White says. “He was like, ‘I ain’t never record there.’”
Through White, DeVaughn does say he remembers cutting the song with “some producer dude” at XM Radio. He couldn’t recall if it was Beaver. Messages left at XM (which has, since Beaver left, merged with Sirius) inquiring about Beaver’s rights to the material weren’t returned.
Then there are the Beastie Boys. A track of theirs appears as “Right Right Now Now (H.H. Remix)” on the Listen Vision Best of Compilation. But Beastie Boys spokeswoman Laura Eldeiry says the “Beastie Boys have never used Listen Vision Studios, and DJ Boom did not produce the song.” She insists the band produces all their songs at their own Oscilloscope Studios in New York.
It turns out some of the tracks on the Listen Vision CDs were actually recorded—or simply remixed—during Beaver’s two years at XM Radio. “A lot of the big names I worked with were at XM,” Beaver admits when I ask him about the artists’ denials. The Beastie Boys were never in the studio with him at all, he allows, but he insists it’s still appropriate to include them on a compilation because he’s the founder of Listen Vision: “As a producer I have the right to collect and highlight my work.”
That’s not necessarily a theory of copyright law many people—or courts—would agree with. But Beaver sticks to it. “I guess in some way, shape, or form XM has rights to it, but in some way, shape, or form, we have rights to it, too,” Beaver argues. He claims he has paperwork proving he’s allowed to sell all the tracks on the compilation CDs MPD confiscated.
Except he also says his lawyer has advised him not to make the contracts that would prove his claims public. “It would be a legal move that would be pretty questionable,” he says. “My lawyer and myself aren’t comfortable revealing the contract because it would be a breach of privacy.” The contracts allowing him to sell the tracks, Beaver says, include non-disclosure agreements.
Beaver does produce videos or photos of artists like Run-DMC, Flo Rida, Rick Ross, and Ghostface Killah at Listen Vision; KRS-One recorded a whole theme song for the studio. But at least some of the tracks on his compilations appear to be in the same legal area as many hip-hop mixtapes—which is to say, a murky one at best.
Why, though, does MPD care? If mixtapes help promote the artists and the studio, and everyone involved agrees to wink and nod about the legal arrangements, are a few compilation CDs really the sort of thing the city’s law enforcement authorities should be focusing on?
The RIAA’s Kennedy says Listen Vision had an “inordinate amount of illegal CDs” that violated “true name and address” law. “As you would guess, it’s clearly illegal to affix the Listen [Vision] name on any CDs for which the individuals or entity does not own the copyrights to, including many of those at issue here,” she says.
D.C. copyright law says a business can be guilty of counterfeiting or piracy if it sells a recording or a DVD that doesn’t “clearly and conspicuously” display the name and address of the manufacturer. That information has to be on the cover, label, or jacket of the item. The belief is that those selling the products illegally wouldn’t want to provide a valid name and address. The law represents a good way of going after mixtapes or bootlegs. Beaver’s compilations have an address, though it appears inside the cover, where it might be hard to spot. He says many of the discs confiscated without addresses were part of the studio’s library.
Even assuming that all the CDs MPD seized were pirated, the studio represents, at most, a small problem. Selling CDs isn’t a major component of their business model. That means the labels aren’t looking at a major threat. Likewise, the artists on the Listen Vision comps won’t likely be knocking down Beaver’s door soon. Mixtapes, after all, are hip-hop tradition. You could make a pretty good case that MPD should focus on other things.
Beaver, though, wouldn’t agree with you. He believes the RIAA should be going after music pirates. Occasionally, he runs into bootlegs of his own material. “My products and my beats have been stolen for years,” he says. “I’m more of a victim than anyone else. That’s the irony of the situation.”