EMI, the smallest of the four major record labels, has sent a cease & desist letter to DJ Lobsterdust and Bootie SF regarding "NirGaga," a mashup combining Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." The song had appeared in Bootie SF's "best of 2009" compilation (and got a thumbs up from the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog), but now has been removed. For now, you can still find it online, so you can listen and reach your own fair use conclusions. The song is obviously transformative, and it's hard to imagine it as a substitute for the originals.
As far as we've been able to tell, mashups rarely draw the attention of record label lawyers. Of course, EMI was involved in efforts to block the viral distribution of Dangermouse's now legendary Grey Album. And EMI used the DMCA in 2008 to censor video mashups commenting on the lawsuit between Joe Satriani and Coldplay. But bringing the lawyers to bear against garden-variety mashups is something else again. Is this the beginning of a general crackdown on mashups by EMI, or, we hope, just a misguided one-off?