What can I do with a tape of John Walker Lindh's hip hop beats?
March 13, 2013 4:56 PM   Subscribe

In the mid-1990s, a now-infamous guy on the international stage personally mailed me some original compositions he'd made. What can I do with them now? (Details to follow.)

Remember John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," from back in 2001? In the mid-1990s, he was very much into underground hip hop, and was thinking of maybe becoming a producer one day. (Early- to mid-90s hip hop was one of the ways he was introduced to Islam, actually.)

He was a regular on the EFnet IRC channel #hiphop (later #hip-hop) back then, as was I, and that's how I "knew" him. (I lost touch by the late '90s.) At one point, he snail-mailed me a cassette full of beats. He also had an amusing, hand-written sheet with the offbeat titles of each beat, though I can't seem to find that, unfortunately.

We know what became of him later, and how he got to be internationally known. As you can imagine, I have my own thoughts about that, but that's neither here nor there.

Can anything be done with these? They're not necessarily what I'd call great beats, but they're definitely lighthearted, offbeat, and interesting. Fun, actually. You'd never think it was from the same person (at least going by media portrayals).
posted by CommonSense to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can't imagine they wouldn't be of interest to music makers out there. Digitize them and set up a web site where people can download them under a CC license of your choice.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:59 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by chrchr at 5:07 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe write him in prison and ask what he'd like you to do with the beats.
posted by Area Man at 5:20 PM on March 13, 2013 [17 favorites]

Agreeing w/Area Man. This work is someone's, and he is still alive. It'd be a good move to try to get his perspective on it.
posted by eyesontheroad at 5:23 PM on March 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

The copyright would reside with Lindh. I don't think you could make a fair use case. Giving them away is problematic, since this doesn't release you from any form of liability. Selling them is even worse. You'd be violating his copyright either way. Without a release I don't see you doing much of anything with them. You could plop down a few hundred to talk to an IP lawyer and get an informed opinion though.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:41 PM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Please do not upload things that are not your own work in some way." So, probably not a good idea.

I wonder if there are libraries or archives who might be interested in the tape, and able to preserve it properly. But I have no idea how likely that is. Barring that, yeah, the best thing you can do is get in touch with Lindh, offer to make copies of this stuff available yourself, and see whether he's interested.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:47 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

What cjorgensen said. The beats are John Walker Lindh's copyright, became his at the point of creation, will still be his after his death, passing on to his estate. You cannot do anything with them without his permission.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 PM on March 13, 2013

Here's his address:

John Walker Lindh
Reg. No. 45426-083
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 33
Terre Haute, IN 47808-0033
posted by carmicha at 6:36 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: No worries. I'm definitely not motivated by money or fame; otherwise, I might've tried contacting the media in 2001. But inclined as I am not to trust them, that's pretty much the last thing I would've done. Still not looking for any of those things; I just thought it'd be interesting to share (for free) as a curiosity.

But . . . (lightly hits self on head) duh. Of course, copyright. I can't believe that didn't occur to me. I'll hold on to the tape, then.

A shame, though -- it's some interesting listening, especially in light of where history took him. Innocent days indeed.
posted by CommonSense at 6:36 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: carmicha: Thanks. I might give that a shot, actually.
posted by CommonSense at 6:37 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could send them to a library or museum for safekeeping. At some point someone is going to seriously study the dude and they would probably be interested in his lyrics.
posted by miyabo at 9:00 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sell it on eBay? Then someone else can figure out "what to do with it" while you can take the money to do something you know for sure you want to do.
posted by Dansaman at 10:05 PM on March 13, 2013

Mail him a few paperback books along with your letter - often prisoners have nothing but bibles to read.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:11 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check on this particular prison's policies before attempting to send books to a prisoner. They may be rejected.
posted by RedEmma at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2013

DarlingBri: You cannot legally do anything with them without his permission.
FTFY. Copyright law, morality, and ability are three different things (that may overlap).
posted by IAmBroom at 10:56 AM on March 14, 2013

Post them on Something Awful, Reddit, or some music forum and start a contest to see who can make the best music out of them. Put up a small prize, than make a website with the results and post it to Projects.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:35 PM on March 14, 2013

Check on this particular prison's policies before attempting to send books to a prisoner. They may be rejected.

Further, check out their policies on how to do this if you are so inclined. I worked in a bookstore for 6 years. We often sent books to prisons, but there are stringent guidelines on how to go about this that vary from prison to prison. One of the prisons we sent to wouldn't even allow stamped parcels (had to be printed and metered mail only. Can't go hiding stuff under the stamps!). You also had to use only clear tape to tape the packages, absolutely no staples, etc. Often there is an "approved" list of people a prisoner can receive packages from.

I've been thinking of the actual question asked here, "What can I do with a tape of John Walker Lindh's hip hop beats?" and I think I made some assumptions that resulted in incomplete advice.

The better answer would be to turn the question around and ask, "What do you want to do with them?"

Fair Use Doctrine may be your ally here. It sounds like you have a decent background in hip hop. Write a long form essay on Lindh. Try to engage him currently. Take whatever he says and snippets of his music to pepper through a multimedia article. Shop this around. If the writing isn't your thing, contact venues that do this. "This American Life," or the folks at "Damn Interesting" or mefi's own Paul Slade's "Planet Slade."

You have an amazingly compelling story on your hands and I think I did you a disservice by focussing only on the legalities of copyright because that's what interests me personally.

IAmBroom also has a good point. Infringing copyright entitles the infringed to the money you made by infringing and the sales lost due to the existence of your infringing product. It would be hard to make a case that Lindh was ever going to make a dime off these recordings, so I would only be worried about being sued for whatever cash you actually made off these (even released fully). You're still left with the pesky moral bit he mentions. You also have to believe you're probably not the only one with copies of this, so whatever you decide to do...it's not like you have some kind of exclusivity here.

So, I put it out there, What would you want to do with the recordings if you could do anything?
posted by cjorgensen at 5:41 PM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

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