U2 Can Sue a Sample Simon
U2's The Edge Meets Negativland
INTERVIEW BY MARK HOSLER, DON JOYCE AND R. U. SIRIUS ...
E: Yeah. Like in music terms, we sample things; people sample us all the time. I hear the odd U2 drum loop in a dance record. I don't have any problem with that.
NL: This is interesting, because we've been involved in a similar situation.
M2: I should interject here. The folks that you are talking to, Don and Mark, aside from being occasional contributors to MONDO 2000, are members of a band called Negativland. I knew that they had been sued by your record label, but they hadn't been sued by you. So I thought we could engage in a conversation.
NL: We were sued by Island for a very fragmentary sample of one of your records, and we were terribly offended by that. We ended up sending some packages and letters to you, and I don't know what kind of communication you ever got about it.
E: From what I can remember, as it was presented to us, it was "Here's the record, here's the album sleeve; Island's on the case here." They've objected because they feel because of the artwork-this is at a time where a lot of people are expecting a new, huge record- they felt that from a pure business point of view, nothing about art, they thought there was a chance that people would pick up the album and say, "Here's the new U2 album."
NL: In the context that you're in, you have an idea of doing something subversive, and we're scurrying way down low in the underground of music, and we're doing things that we also think are somewhat subversive. I actually have always liked the music that you do. I've listened carefully to a lot of what you guys have done, and really think especially the new record is terrific. But the thing that we did was_ the lawsuit from Island dealt with us like it was a consumer fraud, like it was intended to rip off innocent U2 fans, and that we were going to make millions of dollars by selling these records. It didn't acknowledge that there was any_ they may not like the artistic intent of the record_ maybe even the members of the band might be offended by what we did_ but no one ever acknowledged that the record was anything else. And yet, actually, when you look at the cover, listen to the record, look at the whole package, there's a U2 spy plane on the cover_ it's pretty obvious that this is an artistic statement about something.
E: I didn't have any problem with it. I think Casey Casem did more than we did. The problem was that by the time we realized what was going on it was too late. Once we did approach the record company on your behalf and said, "Come on, this is really very heavy." But at that point, on a point of principle, their attitude was, "Okay, we are not going to look for damages, but we're not about to swallow our own legal costs." The way it ended up is what they were looking for were costs, not damages.
NL: But we didn't get a phone call from Island saying, "Look, we're pissed. We don't like what you did. Our band has a new album coming out and you'd better pull this thing or we're gonna smash you." They didn't give us any chance to do anything. The first thing we heard was 10 days after the record was out there's a 180 page lawsuit. So it was like there was no negotiation. They went ahead and were spending_ they've got $400/hour lawyers. You're quite right about their main concern being the cover rather than the content. We always felt that. And I think it was obvious from the way the lawsuit was worded. But they never came to us and said, "Change the cover." Instead they just smashed the whole thing including the content, which is really a shame. We were naive, because we were a little worried about Casey Casem, but we actually thought we're a tiny band; we sell 5 to 10,000 copies of a record. And we had a distinct impression that U2 had a sense of humor, and that someone coming along and taking the piss out of them a little bit was something they would find amusing.
E: I think we would have reacted in a different way, but the lawsuit was not our lawsuit. Although we have some influence, we were not in a position to tell our record company what to do.
NL: We were always wondering if that was really true? If U2 sells 14 million copies of an album for a label an album for a label, and they are the main thing that keeps Island records in business economically, then don't the artists_ or do they not? You could see from our position how we would think that you would certainly have the leverage. Why can't the artist have more influence over the label, do you know?