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Ask MPR Mailbag

October 04, 2006

Can The Current play "mash-ups"?

Here's one for the legal department: I was informed that public and educational radio stations are not bound by copyright limitations as to the music they can broadcast because these institutions fall under the Fair Use exception of the federal copyright statute. Is this true?

More specifically, could The Current hypothetically play songs from an LP like Girl Talk's "The Night Ripper," a recently-released album that's made entirely of unlicensed mash-ups, yet is nonetheless enjoying a distribution deal (albeit via a label known as Illegal Art) and wide critical acclaim?

St. Paul, MN

Dear Rob, The answer to your first question is no. Public and educational radio stations are bound by copyright law, the very same law that applies to any radio station. Royalty fees must be paid and ASCAP is quite aggressive in enforcing their rules regarding payment.

As to the second question: mash-ups like those found on "The Night Ripper" would indeed be regarded as a copyright infingement. The Current can't play music that violates someone else's copyright. So no matter how much critical acclaim the mash-up enjoys, we can't play it.

Michael Popham
Minnesota Public Radio Member Listener Services