How a Little Hip-Hop Website Is Changing Government Policy

This isn’t a story about an innovative startup; it’s not about a clever app.

Rather, it’s about Dajaz1, a hip-hop website that was abruptly taken offline in 2011 by the US Department of Justice and the RIAA — and kept down under extremely sketchy circumstances.  Now, those actions are generating serious questions at the highest levels of government.

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May, 2012: “The Extremely Sad Story of a Hip-Hop Site Destroyed…

So who cares about a little, defenseless hip-hop website?  Actually, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-California), Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), that’s who, not to mention early advocates like the EFF.  The Congressional group is now asking why the DOJ and RIAA unfairly shuttered the domain name in the first place, and deliberately scuttled attempts at a fair trial despite an active Dajaz1 legal defense attempt.  All are members of the House Judiciary Committee, and part of group that will make it much harder to do this again.

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The inquiry comes as the RIAA is facing decreased contributions from the major labels, yet somehow justifying nosebleed salaries.  But those compensation packages could be harder to defend, especially if Washington stops listening to guys like RIAA president Cary Sherman.  And after a brow-beating like this one, it looks like the DOJ may have been snookered by a vastly oversimplified industry tale.  Which is exactly what the Congressional group raised in a recent, open letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The affidavit on which the seizure was based ultimately proved to be inaccurate.  Much of Dajaz1’s information was lawful, and many of the allegedly infringing links to copyrighted songs, and specifically the links that were the basis for the seizure order, were given to the site owners by artists and labels themselves.”

So on one hand, Dajaz1 played the role of pre-release promotional partner, routinely receiving ‘leaks’ from major label staffers who needed the site to stir fan interest. On the other, groups like the RIAA broad-stroked all of this as ‘infringement,’ regardless of the source.  And, convinced the US Government that this was worth destroying.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and similarly-soiled stories surround sites like OnSmash.  But it could one of the last: according to details outlined by the Congressional group, the RIAA deliberately ignored attempts by the US Government itself to hear the other side.  This is a game that’s difficult to keep playing.

“According to court records unsealed after six months after the ICE [Immigrations & Customs Enforcement] restored the website, ICE requested extensions to allow the RIAA and other ‘rights holders’ to evaluate content obtained by Dajaz1 and answer prosecutors’ outstanding questions.  As a result of ICE’s improper targeting and the RIAA’s failure to respond to government requests for assistance, the censorship of what appears to be a legitimate website was unnecessarily prolonged while the website owner was unable to get his day in court…”

And, here’s the saddest part of it all…

“Ultimately, it was determined that there was a lack of probable cause and the seized domain was restored.”


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13 Responses

  1. therealcreator

    So everything was FULLY licensed and all permissions were granted for all the music including those on the “mixtapes” on the site … pleeeze

    Shameful that the RIAA did not come up with evidence.. no wonder we are in this mess. Some-one needs to give them a good kick up the ass for dropping the ball.

    Just another bunch of DJ’s/Mixer Engineers pimping off of real music creators, and pocketing the mulah, supported by the usual bunch of technology pirate supporters – EFF … Pah!

    • Shawn

      Shill. Its attitudes like your that have most people, artists included applauding the downfall of the middlemen in this industry. No one needs you any more.

    • Bald Headed John

      Have you not heard of due process?

      ICE took the RIAA’s word as fact apparently without any investigation.

      Would it be OK if your neighbor told the cops you had committed a crime, they come and lock you up, then they start the investigation?

      • wallow-T

        That’s basically how the defense of copyright works on the internet — shoot first and never have to answer questions. Accuracy and due process are not cost effective and they do not scale.

  2. Visitor

    if the music wasn’t there illegally, let’s see the licenses that granted them the rights, specifically the licenses from the labels that actually hold the copyrights.

    • Bald Headed John

      That is a very good question ICE should have asked during it’s investigation BEFORE shutting down the website.

  3. Hoodgrown Magazine

    Reading some of the comments… I just have to say that some people have no clue.

    I also run a hip hop website

    and YES, ALL the music on the site is there LEGALLY from the artist, PR and Promotional companies. Legitimate companies that the labels and/or artist themselves have hired to promote the music.

    The problem is that one hand doesn’t seem to talk to the other and no one seems to talk to the RIAA.

    No one should be allowed to disupt your business without giving you a fair shot of defending yourself.

  4. Central Scrutinizer

    Maybe a little good will come of this.

    Maybe ICE will not take the word of a political donor as fact and shut down someones business without sufficient evidence or investigation.

    Maybe RIAA will stop embarrasing themselves.

    and maybe pigs will fly and snowball fights will break out in hell

  5. BDXL

    Dajaz1 needs to immediately sue the RIAA for all ad revenue lost for the duration of time the site was down’ plus legal fees.