Paul D. Miller on Tue, 8 Apr 2003 11:54:28 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Who Owns Language - the "Hip-hop" issue

I guess it's one of those cases where that "Death of the Author" axis 
Barthes/Foucault kind of put forward a similar position: the "author 
function" becomes meta - but of course, this is fiction. When you 
have chairman of the FCC Collin Powell's son Michael K. Powell 
rollin' with all sorts of de-regulations of the airwaves and whatnot, 
well... maybe this isn't that far from ficiton. As a matter of fact, 
maybe Davey D. might have given someone an idea. Who owns "" 
etc etc place in language?


by Davey D

It looks like the Hip Hop community now faces its biggest challenge. 
Forget police task forces or discriminating night club owners, folks 
will now have to gear up to do some serious battle with a Los Angeles 
businessman named Richard Gonahangya and his company America Media 
Operative Inc. For those who don't know AMO Inc is a little known 
company that specializes in lobbying Congress and advising government 
officials on media policy. They yield a lot of influence over the FCC 
and other agencies that determine policy. The word around town is 
'what they say goes'.

Gonahangya a staunch conservative, held a small press conference in 
Compton, Ca yesterday to announce that his company AMO Inc had 
recently trademarked and brought the rights to the word/phrase 'Hip 
Hop'. As a result they will soon start charging a licensing fee for 
anyone who wishes to use the word in a commercial/ for profit project.

Taking advantage of a provision in the recently amended Millennium 
Copyright Act of 2001, Gonahangya explained that he and his company 
have all the legal ammunition and clearance to own the rights to the 
phrase 'Hip Hop'. He noted that the Hip Hop industry has generated 
over 20 billion dollars last year in the United States alone. The 
phrase Hip Hop is now a powerful marketing tool and his company is 
posed to profit handsomely in 2003 from its 'proper' usage. The new 
licensing fee is estimated to net AMO Inc a whooping 5-8 billion 
dollars a year.

"Any business including record labels, videos, radio stations or 
television shows that use the phrase 'Hip Hop' in the title or 
marketing body of their work will have to pay AMO Inc a licensing 
fee", Gonahangya told reporters. 'We are not attempting to stifle 
free speech or muzzle popular culture.. we have no legal grounds from 
preventing anyone who wishes to use the word in everyday speech, 
however if you are using the word in a manner that associates you 
with a salable product, then we fully intend to collect our fee".

Gonahangya went on to explain that what he is doing is not unusual. 
There are many popular words that are used in everyday conversations 
that are trademarked and cannot be used in commercial ventures 
without permission. 'The word 'Xerox' is often used interchangeably 
with 'copy'. The word 'Vaseline' is used interchangeably with lotion 
or grease. He also explained that the word Rock-N-Roll is trademarked 
by a major label record executive who at the time could not charge a 
licensing fee.

Gonahangya laid out his company's strategy for 2003. He explained 
that AMO Inc is giving record labels and performers a one month grace 
period to get their business affairs in order. Starting in May 
letters will be sent out to anyone who is using the term 'Hip Hop' 
explaining that the word is now trademarked and that if they wish to 
continue to use it in the body of their work, they will have to 
register with his company and be assessed a licensing fee. Letters 
have already been sent to several Hip Hop internet websites with more 
to come. He estimated the average fee will be anywhere from 2-5 
thousand dollars plus residual fees per project. Permission to use 
the word will be on a case by case basis. In addition any future 
projects released using the term ' Hip Hop' will have to have the 
'TM' symbol next to the word.

When asked if he felt AMO Inc was being exploitative and attempting 
to blackmail a viable popular culture, Gonahangya bluntly stated; 
'This is not about culture. This is about business... The laws have 
been set up for anyone and everyone to use. Our company took 
advantage of what was on the books for almost a year and that what we 
are doing is now perfectly legal... Hip Hop is a big multi-billion 
dollar a year business. I was surprised that a big executive like 
Russell Simmons or Clive Davis or even business savy rappers like 
Jay-Z, P-Diddy or Eminem never trademarked the phrase. Everyone in 
America knows that you don't do business without protecting your 
assets. It's just plain stupid to leave yourself this wide open.. If 
the Hip Hop community is that dumb when it comes to business then too 
bad. Don't make me out to be the bad guy".

When asked if he intends to share any of the profits from licensing 
the word 'Hip Hop' with any of Hip Hop's pioneers including Lovebug 
Starski who first coined the phrase back in the late 70s or Afrika 
Bambaataa who popularized and spread the word, Gonahangya laughed. 'I 
never heard of a Mr Starski and as for sharing profits with people 
from Africa..No, my people are originally from Denmark, Norway.

When another reporter told Gonahangya that Afrika Bambaataa was 
someone's name, Gonahangya shrugged it off and said he had no 
intentions of sharing the profits with anyone but his company and his 
family." However, he did offer a discounted licensing fee for Starski 
and Bambaataa since they coined and helped popularized the term.

When asked if there would be any sort of criteria set up to determine 
who will and will not be allowed to use the phrase 'Hip Hop', 
Gonahangya explained that for most part if a company has the money 
and a viable revenue stream for residual payments then it should be a 
'piece of cake'. As for criteria, Gonahangya explained that he has 
very little tolerance and respect for individuals and companies that 
are attempting to use the phrase Hip Hop for political gain.

"Recently the term 'Hip Hop' has been positioned as a 
progressive/liberal movement. That's unfair and a totally one-sided 
approach to what is an American institution.Hip Hop is for everyone. 
It is not a slick political campaign tool for Jesse Jackson, Al 
Sharpton or Hillary Clinton.", he retorted

Gonahangya became evasive when asked if he would allow the term Hip 
Hop to be used by any of the conservative organizations that he 
regularly associates with and lobbies for. " To be honest we have not 
ruled them out. We believe that Hip Hop needs to be politically 
balanced. For years Hip Hop has been associated with liberal causes 
that have totally undermined the moral fiber of this country. We will 
be very selective as to how Hip Hop will be used politically", he said

Gonahangya continued; "I will assure you this... In the future you 
will not be seeing billboards or magazine ads with the words Hip Hop' 
and Reparations, 'Hip Hop' and Affirmative Action or even 'Hip Hop' 
and Black Power anytime soon. If it hasn't come through our offices 
and been granted a licensing fee then its existence will be in 
violation of the Millennium Copyright Act of 2001 and we intend to 
aggressively go after any violators and prosecute. This about 
political integrity and money".

Some are speculating that Gonahangya intends to use his ownership of 
the now trademarked term 'Hip Hop' to quiet down any sort of 
political movement that has been organizing around the term in time 
for the 2004 elections.

We caught up with Greg Watkins webmaster of the popular site and he noted that he had received a letter from 
Gonahangya's AMO Inc company earlier this month. "He told us in the 
letter that we were in violation of his this trademark law and that 
me and my partner Chuck would have to pay licensing fee if we wanted 
to keep the word 'Hip Hop in our name. We checked with our lawyers 
and found out that we were safe because we are allhiphop and not just 
'hip hop'. It's obvious these guys are serious about collecting their 

We caught up with long time Bay Area writer and Hip Hop deejay Billy 
Jam who does the Hip Hop Slam radio show and has the website Hip Hop 
Slam. "Yeah this attorney contacted my attorney and said I would have 
to take the 'Hip Hop' out of Hip Hop Slam or pay a fee if I want to 
continue doing business. At first I thought it was a joke and then 
days later I received a subpoena to show up in court. I was told if I 
don't remove the word Hip Hop from Hip Hop Slam or pay a licensing 
fee then I could lose my house, my car and my prized record 
collection". Normally I don't give a damn about such things, but I 
can't afford to lose my records", Billy Jam said

We caught up with popular Bay Area rapper /writer JR The Rap Slanger 
out of East Oakland. He said: "Look man, this country's always been 
about business and fools is gonna try and collect their paper. But 
this is straight up bullS%$T. How's this fool gonna try and trademark 
a word and collect a fee? Brothas need to rise up and retaliate and 
put a foot in his ass. But let's be honest, me personally I don't 
have to worry because I'm not really Hip Hop. I rap. I'm a rapper. 
There's a difference between rap and Hip Hop. I guess Hip Hop is 
gonna die but rap is gonna go on forever! He didn't trademark the 
word Rap did he? "

As far as I can tell the word rap is not trademarked. Nor can it be 
because of it's long standing everyday usage.

We checked with famed NY copyright attorney Arnold Esquire Sullivan 
and he soberly explained that the new provisions that have been added 
does indeed give AMO Inc the right to trademark and collect a 
licensing fee for use of the word Hip Hop and any other coined 
'unique' phrase. If the word is made up or unique to the American 
lexicon then it can be trademarked and people will have to pay a fee 
if they wish to use it in any sort of business endeavor.

Sullivan explained the new amendment went through around the same 
time they were crafting the Patriot Act. "It's a shame people went to 
sleep on this. I hate to say this but Negroes had better wake up and 
start smelling the coffee. These people in Washington are not 

Sullivan concluded by noting that failure to comply with the new 
trademark laws can result in serious economic repercussions and a 
stiff 5 year prison sentence. He noted that the stiff prison sentence 
came after music industry executives and software companies lobbied 
congress for harsher penalties for bootleggers and other 'copyright' 
thieves'. "Unfortunately this new trademark law as it pertains to the 
phrase Hip Hop can potentially land people in jail if they try to 
make a profit off it', Sullivan noted.

At the end of the press conference Gonahangya explained that he is 
currently in negotiations with a major broadcast company so that they 
will have the exclusive rights to the word 'Hip Hop'. Gonahangya 
declined to name the outlet that he is dealing with, but he did note 
that should everything work out according to plan this media outlet 
has vast resources and will set up offices throughout the country and 
help determine which projects and products will be allowed to use the 
term 'Hip Hop'. Gonahangya refused to say whether or not it would be 
an outlet like Clear Channel, Viacom or Emmis that would be 
determining who can or cannot use the word 'Hip Hop'. "It would be 
premature for me to give out that information", he said

It is clear that big corporations and government lobbyist now own Hip Hop.

Gonahangya also reiterated the fact that he is extending a month long 
grace period. He also used the occasion to pitch his new licensing 
service. In what appeared to be a real cheesy move he stated that he 
was offering a one time discount for the next two weeks. He explained 
that he understands that there are a lot of non-profits that use the 
phrase Hip Hop in literature and other marketing schemes and as a 
result they will be granted a one time 500 dollar processing fee and 
will subjected to the similar constraints of their 501 non profit 
status. That means they can not use Hip Hop as a political marketing 

Non political Independent record labels and artist can obtain a 
lifetime license to use the word Hip Hop for 500 dollars. Gonahangya 
explained that he believes in doing things for the community and this 
is his way of giving back.

"Let it not be said I don't care for the underdog", he said. AMO Inc 
is all about helping the downtrodden. We normally charge on average 
of 5000 thousand plus lifetime residual fees, but because we care 
about the little people we will offer Hip Hop [TM] for 500 dollars 
licensing fee for the next two weeks.

If anyone wishes to fill out an application to see if you qualify to 
use the term 'Hip Hop' in your product or if you want more 
information on AMO Inc call them at 1-800-233-456
or Go to their webpage. 
opic or drop me a line at

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe 
they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

wildstyle access:

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

Office Mailing Address:

Subliminal Kid Inc.
101 W. 23rd St. #2463
New York, NY 10011

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