IT'S PERFECTLY FITTING THAT THE finest artistic creation by the media-appropriating music group Negativland is not, in fact, a piece of music. That honor belongs not to a song, but to the legal and media furor surrounding a song: their 1991 12-inch single U2.

Fans had forwarded to the band copies of a tape which captured raw outtakes of Casey Kasem in the studio working on American Top 40, verbally abusing his staff and insulting U2, whose song he was trying to introduce. "These guys are from England [sic] and who gives a shit?" was the most famous line. Negativland cobbled together an a cappella and a Muzak version of the U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," to accompany Kasem and other samples, and released them as a two-song single on the SST Records label

The problems stemmed from the single's cover, which was designed to look like a U2 record called Negativland. Island Records, U2's label, sued within weeks of the single's release, and quickly won a settlement pulling all copies of the single from record store shelves. Then, the label asked for its legal expenses to be reimbursed. Then things got really ugly. Greg Ginn, SST's owner, claimed Negativland was liable for Island and SST's legal expenses, and eventually sued Negativland over the issue. A flurry of faxes, letters, press releases, and legal documents followed. These are admirably collected in Negativland's 1995 book, Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 (Seeland, $19.95). The book is addictive reading, not so much for the debate it raises about copyright law as for the drama of its story, which draws Ginn, Negativland, Island, several music publishing companies, U2, and Casey Kasem himself into a most convoluted struggle.

As for Negativland's music, um... I don't much care for it. Their songs are too sloppy or self-congratulatory to be entertaining, their satire of TV, business executives, and advertising practices is dated, and their best recent work, "O.J. and his Personal Trainer Kill Ron and Nicole," which samples the notorious exercise video where Simpson jokes about beating his wife, came out long after that story expired. Negativland's own story is far more interesting than the overdone media stories they satirize. Which is, somehow, perfect.

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