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Universal Music all shook up over jailhouse rock, sues

Universal Music has mounted a legal challenge against a company that produces so-called care packages for prisoners, including mix tapes featuring some of Universal's artists. 

As the world remembers Elvis Presley on what would have been his 80th birthday, another music giant, Universal, is all shook up over alleged intellectual property theft by a company that produces mix tapes for America's prisoners.

Based in Massachusetts, the Keefe Group furnishes the incarcerated with personal items like candy, sneakers, toiletries, electronics, and mix tapes, that is a CD with recordings from many different artists, usually aimed to set a specific mood.

Fortunately for Elvis fans who want to rock the jailhouse, the litigious Universal doesn’t own Mr. Presley's catalogue. The King's recordings are primarily the property of Sony BMG

Because Mr. Presley’s big day was somewhat overshadowed by the headlines made by the Universal lawsuit, it seems only fair to frame the news his way.

What would Elvis have to about Universal's message that it wants a little less conversation and a little more court action on copyright infringement?

The King might take Universal’s side and say it’s now or never when it comes to policing copyright infringement cases like the one filed in California court Tuesday against Centric Group, a subsidiary of the Keefe Group, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Of course there’s also a slim chance the King of rock and roll would say Universal ain’t nutin’ but ain’t nutin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time about those who incorporate their catalogue into everything from airline in-flight music, PandoraSirius XM Radio, and even DJ competitions on television called Masters of the Mix.

It appears that no matter how great thou art if your mix isn’t authorized by the copyright owner or owner of corresponding state law rights, are nothing more than collections of infringing, piratical compilations of copyrighted or otherwise legally protected sound recordings and copyrighted musical composition," Universal contends in the Hollywood Reporter.

Universal views these kinds of mixtapes as the devil in disguise, a potential cover for piracy. The Keefe Group, whose website states that the company exclusively serves the correctional market through its various affiliates did not respond for comment.

Elvis no longer rocks most prison mix tapes these days. According to the report, that distinction goes to artists such as James Brown, Eminem, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.

If you’re a company using Universal catalogue items and they find out “That’s When Your Heartache Begins” Universal is seeking damages of $150,000  per infringed song according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The lawsuit states that record companies and music publishers discovered earlier this year that mix tapes were being included in care packages for prisoners.

It added that defendants "sometimes sell their infringing products substantially below market value, in order to promote, market, and profit from their sales of other goods and services".

While Mr. Pressley was known for the song “Jailhouse Rock” which was featured in a film of the same name, Elvis never actually went to jail. “Jailhouse Rock,” was featured in the Elvis movie of the same name, where Elvis plays a wrongly accused convict who becomes a star when he gets out.

It was Elvis’ father, Vernon Pressley, who did time, according to one biographical website.

“Vernon was sentenced to three years in the Parchman Farm Prison for forgery. (Vernon had sold a pig for $4, but had changed the check to either $14 or $40.)” the website notes.

Universal has not release a number on how many allegedly illegal mixtapes were sent to prisoners with the message “Merry Christmas baby” from a loved one who believed they weren’t stepping on the toes of anyone’s blue suede shoes.

Perhaps the best advice for inmates receiving one of these allegedly illegal mixtapes in a care package the best course of action is to simply return to sender.

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