One of the most notorious, brilliant, and amusing copyright news stories surrounds Negativland’s appropriation of Casey Kasem and U2, when they provocatively released a single with “U2” emblazoned in huge letters on the cover with the silhouette of a Lockheed U-2 spy plane (cover image is below). The song featured a hilarious recording of Casey Kasem getting frustrated over the pointlessness of enthusiastically introducing U2 to an American audience, eventually to a tinny backbeat of U2’s 1987 track “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”—indeed, the track is listed simply as a cover of that song.
Island Records didn’t find the jape very funny. With Achtung Baby due to hit stores—readers will find this hard to remember, but U2’s status as a worldwide force was far more questionable before that album came out—Island sued Negativland with great alacrity and proved remarkably effective at gathering up as many of the extant copies as it could. Negativland soon countered with a book, Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, that included a CD as well as documentation from all the legal wrangling. The whole thing was a masterful bit of culture-jamming, and for fans of out-there assholery before the widespread existence of the Internet, Negativland’s “U2” became a much-sought-after cultural artifact that proved devilishly difficult to find.
Now, with the Internet and everything, it’s not hard to find at all, and since nether Island Records nor U2 probably cares much whether iTunes sales of Achtung Baby are affected anymore, Negativland has chosen this, the week of Casey Kasem’s death, to release the masters for today’s generation of culture jammers to fuck with. On Negativland’s website, “Hal Stakke, legal counsel of Seeland Records” has issued a press release after the demise of Kasem under the following title: “In Memoriam, Kemal Amin “Casey” Kasem (27 April 1932 – 15 June 2014): Negativland releases ‘U2’ tracks for remixing and reuse.” Here’s the content of the release:
One of the most beloved voices in music radio, Kemal Amin “Casey” Kasem, died on Father’s Day 2014 after a long illness, and also a very public family squabble over his continuing care. Negativland pays tribute to this broadcasting legend by reaching into its vaults and presenting what is perhaps Kasem’s best-known work, on Negativland’s long-unavailable U2 maxi- single, offering up for public consumption (and now, for creative reuse) what has been hidden from view for 23 years.
In 1991, Negativland’s “U2” single had one of the shortest releases in music history, squashed like a bug after less than ten days on store shelves, under legal fire from the Irish rock band U2′s music publisher (Warner/Chappell) and then-record label (Island). The history of this fracas was detailed in their 1995 book and CD release, Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 (Seeland 013).
Now, instead of merely reissuing the U2 record itself, Negativland presents, for free digital download, the original un-mixed studio multi-track tape for re-mixing, re-purposing and re-inventing in whichever way the listener may choose. Negativland encourages the re-contextualization of this seminal work for whatever reason, whatsoever. In keeping with the working methods and philosophy of Negativland, and the Fair Use provision in U.S. Copyright Law (Section 107, http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html), the group offers up this raw material in the hopes that entirely new versions of the work are created and disseminated. Listeners/remixers are encouraged to post their creations in these locations: www.negativland.com and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Negativland/131759750185111.
If you want the masters, all you have to do is download them here. It’s all pretty exciting, although of course, it’s always possible that, to paraphrase Kasem himself, “Nobody gives a shit.”