Critics and fans just about deified singer Jeff Tweedy and his alt-country band, Wilco, when the group released its album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002. But now, on the cusp of Wilco's next miraculous release, a small British label has forced Tweedy to fork over tens of thousands of dollars for questionable samples that gave his previous star-making record its title.In 1998, London-based Irdial-Discs put out a four-CD collection of broadcasts from so-called "numbers stations" -- mysterious shortwave transmissions, allegedly sent by the worlds' intelligence agencies, of monotone readers spewing alphanumeric streams. On the first of the discs, a woman in an indecipherable accent -- a Mossad agent, according to legend -- keeps repeating three words: "Yankee ... hotel ... foxtrot."It's the same recording that loops for a minute and a half during "Poor Places," the 10th track on Wilco's 2002 album. After a two-year legal fight, Tweedy agreed in an out-of-court settlement to give Akin Fernandez, Irdial's owner and sole employee, a substantial royalty for the recording.Fernandez is trumpeting his victory as a "classic David and Goliath confrontation." But copyright lawyers and intellectual property activists aren't so sure. How exactly, they're wondering, does a guy get ownership over something he taped off of the radio?My Wired News article has some partial answers -- and some background on the enigmatic "numbers stations."THERE'S MORE: Chris Smolinski runs a "numbers stations" supersite, Spynumbers.com. Simon Mason offers excerpts from his book Secret Signals: The Euronumbers Mystery here. And some good articles about the broadcasts are here, here, here, and here.AND MORE: This is where you can find MP3s of Irdial's spycast recordings.AND MORE: Over on the Irdial blog, owner Akin Fernandez defends his right to bring a copyright suit against Wilco. And he provides some insights into how he ultimately checkmated Warner/Electric/Atlantic, Wilco's label, into a deal.
WEA is not going to fight a case to diminish its own ability to protect its intellectual property; in other words, if we had lost the case it would have been a most unwelcome outcome for them and all of thier shell labels.Anyone could have pointed to the created caselaw to defend the copying of recordings from CDs where the source signal was not copyrightable or not owned outright by the recordist, making all the nature discs, CDs of primitive musics, and other audio exotica put out by labels copletely up for grabs by the sample manipulators.There is no reason why we should not have brought this case. In fact, it would have been completely wrong of us to knowingly let this infringement go unchallenged.