Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling

Just announced on Tuesday by The Future of Music Coalition is the release through Duke University Press of the long-in-the-works book “Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling“. The book seems to be a bit the textbook companion to the 2009 film Copyright Criminals, which co-author Kembrew McLeod was the co-creator of. You might have caught that on PBS a couple years back. I’m very eager to grab this book, which seems like it will be available any second now (Amazon says released on March 3rd but they don’t have it in stock yet). It seems like a lot to pack into 300 pages. Additional contributors are Kristin Thomson & Jenny Toomey of Washington D.C.’s Positive Force, Simple Machines Records and the Mechanics Guide to Putting Out Records. Thompson and Toomey have also held key roles at the Future of Music Coalition (and you thought this whole punk rock thing would never amount to much!).

Interviewees include: Steve Albini, Craig Baldwin, David Byrne, Chuck D, Qbert, Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, TradeMark Gunderson of Evolution Control Committee, Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto, Mark Hosler from Negativland, Wyclef Jean, Kid 606, Killah Priest, Kool Keith, Lady Miss Kier, Mix Master Mike, Thurston Moore, Yoko Ono, Prefuse 73, RJD2, RZA, Scanner, Hank Shocklee, Steinski, Clyde Stubblefield, Rick Prelinger, Tom Silverman, Brian Zisk, Shoshana Zisk, Harry Allen, Jeff Chang, Lawrence Lessig, and Greg Tate.

How did the Depression-era folk-song collector Alan Lomax end up with a songwriting credit on Jay-Z’s song “Takeover”?

Why doesn’t Clyde Stubblefield, the primary drummer on James Brown recordings from the late 1960s such as “Funky Drummer” and “Cold Sweat,” get paid for other musicians’ frequent use of the beats he performed on those songs?

The music industry’s approach to digital sampling—the act of incorporating snippets of existing recordings into new ones—holds the answers. Exploring the complexities and contradictions in how samples are licensed, Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola interviewed more than 100 musicians, managers, lawyers, industry professionals, journalists, and scholars. Based on those interviews, Creative License puts digital sampling into historical, cultural, and legal context. It describes hip-hop during its sample-heavy golden age in the 1980s and early 1990s, the lawsuits that shaped U.S. copyright law on sampling, and the labyrinthine licensing process that musicians must now navigate.

Kembrew McLeod is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Freedom of Expression®: Resistance and Repression in the Age of Intellectual Property and Owning Culture: Authorship, Ownership, and Intellectual Property Law, and co-creator of the documentary film Copyright Criminals.

Peter DiCola is Assistant Professor at Northwestern University School of Law. He is a board member and former Research Director of the Future of Music Coalition.

Copyright Criminals Site
Creative License Site

While writing this up I listened to the recent Illegal Art LP release from Creative License interviewee Girl Talk – All Day – which can be acquired here (Get it – it will melt your freaking mind). Girl Talk is seemingly perpetually on tour this year. Visuals for the shows are being provided by old Troy pal, Brown Cuts Neighbors video remixer and Vidvox/VDMX guy David Lublin. The most curious date on the tour is the last one listed, Wanderlust… a Yoga and music festival near Lake Tahoe, CA. Someone either has a helluva sense of humor, or maybe they worked it out with Mr. Gillis to work an arrangement of his mix that includes 2 Live Crews’ “Face Down, Ass Up” that will seem just fine to a field full of yoga practitioners who will be in just that position at some point during the show. You can’t make this shit up.

“You erase my music, so no one can use it
Step on us and we’ll step on you
Can’t have your cake and eat it too
Talkin’ all that jazz”