“15 Megabytes of Fame” explores the rise of the new genre called “mash-ups.” This comment covers the definition and historical background of mash-ups, an analysis of mash-ups in comparison to traditional digital sampling and appropriation art, a discussion on the simple discrediting of mash-ups, and lastly an analysis of mash-ups under fair use precedents. In particular, the Bridgeport Music court decision is used to assess the standing of mash-ups and what the decision means for the genre’s future. While, as a producer of mash-ups, I have a clear understanding of what mash-ups entail, it was nice to get a standard definition by legal review. More importantly, as a producer, I would potentially call upon fair use, the Bridgeport case, and my differentiation from appropriation art to help defend and support my music. At the same time, counter points are addressed, which only help my project by examining every perspective on mash-ups.
This piece defines mash-ups as distinct derivatives of sampling. Instead of incorporating a sample into a new work, mash-ups usually consist of two preexisting recordings. The remixer, in the most common cases, lays the vocal track from one song on top of the instrumental of another. This amalgamation leads to a unique song. A key element to a mash-up is the easy and immediate recognition of the prior recordings.
It is pointed out that in the Bridgeport case, the court stated that samples are used solely to “1) save costs, or 2) add something to the new recording, or 3) both” (pg. 4). This rests only on the economic aspects of sampling—the artistic value isn’t counted. Mash-ups sample out of necessity; they don’t attempt to hide prior recordings nor attempt to claim ownership. Mash-ups are created in a manner as to require listeners to immediately recognize appropriated works; the creator never intends to portray any notion of “new” originality.
Sound copyrights are protected in terms of its fixed medium, originality, and expression. A copyright owner must approve all derivative works that rearrange or remix. Mash-ups, therefore, should fall as infringing under all of these counts. The only way, it is argued, to defend mash-ups is through fair use. This piece explains how if the transformative nature of mash-ups comments, criticizes, or parodies the underlying work, fair use can be successfully employed to defend them.
All of these points, as aforementioned, have relevance to my project, adding value and different points of view.
Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films is a court case that has had a major impact on the music industry, specifically with regards to the future of digital sampling. The case revolves around the use of a sample from the song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” by George Clinton and the Funkadelics, whose copyright is held by Bridgeport. The sample in question comes from a three-note, four-second guitar riff in “Get Off.” N.W.A.’s song, “100 Miles and Runnin’,” takes two seconds from this snippet, lowers the pitch, and loops it to extend 16 beats. This song was then included on the soundtrack for a Dimension Film’s movie, I Got the Hook Up, which Bridgeport Music then claimed to infringe on its copyright. In a district court, Dimenion Films won on grounds that the alleged infringement was de minimis, and hence not actionable. When brought before a federal court, however, the decision was reversed.
The court used the points on derivative work from Sections 106 and 114 of the US Copyright Law as reference for their decision. Because a sound copyright holder has the right to authorize the rearrangement, remix, and alteration of its recording, the copyright owner also then has the exclusive right to “sample” its recording. From this it was made clear: the judge announced, “Get a license or do not sample.” Grand Upright Music v. Warner Bros case sided with copyright holders to an extent; but, after this interpretation, even the de minimis defense became null. The decision supports that the usage of any section of copyrighted work, regardless of length or clarity, needs clearance. The court analyzed that even when something small is taken from a sound recording, what was taken is still something of value. Further, the copyright holder of a sound recording doesn’t just own the “song,” but rather owns all of the fixed sounds in that recording.
The case had a monumental impact on music, copyright, and sampling. There now exists a “bright-line test,” where any sampling is infringement. This affects any producer or artist who wants to sample music in a song from here on out. Lengthy and costly negotiation and litigation will be necessary to sample, even just to take a two-second snippet. In my project I have two songs with samples. In one I rearrange a hefty portion of the original recording, which would have qualified as infringement after the Grand Upright v. Warner Brothers case. But in the second one, I sample a song while altering it so much that the source is unrecognizable. With the Bridgeport decision, though, there now stands a heavy consequence on my song and the type of sampling that I employed.
While it is fairly obvious to look towards the official US Copyright Law when doing researching for a copyright paper, two sections in Chapter 1 hold an important relevance to my project. Sections 106 and 114 both touch on factors that relate to the appropriation of copyrighted material for derivative works.
Section 106 states the exclusive rights that accompany a copyrighted work. That is, the exclusive rights of an owner of that copyright. There are six main points; these can range from the right to authorize reproduction of the copyrighted work, to the right to authorize public performance or display. The second of these points, however, is the most appropriate for my project and research. It reads: the owner of copyright has the exclusive right and authorization “to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work.” Samples, remixes, and mashups fall under this category of derivative work—they aren’t fully original and have been derived from copyrighted sources.
Section 114 goes further in-depth on the scope of these exclusive rights when it comes to sound recordings specifically. Part two of this section connects back to the aforementioned second point of section 106. It states that the owner of a copyrighted sound recording has the exclusive right “to prepare a derivative work in which the actual sounds fixed in the sound recording are rearranged, remixed, or otherwise altered in sequence or quality,” all of which take place in mashups, remixes, and samples.
Both sections clearly include and declare that the owner of a copyrighted work, including any sound recording, holds the ability and right to authorize derivative works. Since most mashups, and a fair share of remixes and samples, aren’t cleared with copyright holders, they hold an interesting (and illegal) relationship with this law. On top of that, being some of the most fundamental aspects of the US Copyright Law, future court decisions that have affected music of this nature all rely on and relate back to these original points.
“Digital Sampling and the Legal Implications” focuses on digital sampling, its impact on music, the effects that will occur for artists and the music business if the Bridgeport case isn’t reexamined, and finally, possible solutions and alternatives for dealing with the sampling dilemma. The paper has a strict perspective that sampling holds a positive impact on music, and that the Bridgeport decision has the capability to extremely hinder creative output. What I was particularly drawn to were the suggested solutions to seemingly never-ending debates over sampling and its copyright implications.
The three main options mentioned and explored are the creation of a subgenre in fair use to cover digital sampling, a compulsory licensing system, and lastly, a combination of the two. For the subgenre in fair use, the key component would be to determine the purpose, character, and use of the sample, and its effect on the original work’s market. If the underlying work was altered enough or so minimal that it was unrecognizable, the sampled artist or copyright holder shouldn’t and wouldn’t be injured. A compulsory licensing system would make copyright owners compelled to allow samples of their songs. In return, they would receive payment from all of the uses of the new work at a predetermined rate.
A combination of the two would look something like this: A fee would be paid to obtain “temporary” rights to use the sample. The new work would then be analyzed under the proposed new sampling subgenre of fair use. This would determine whether the sample was substantial enough to be recognized or have an effect on the original copyrighted recording. If it didn’t fall under fair use, then a new fee would be assessed in terms of length, prominence, and importance of the sample. An official authority would be put in position to help mediate this last negotiating step.
This is a really creative and intelligent way of looking at possible solutions to the legal issues regarding sampling, infringement, and payment. I think the combination of compulsory license and fair use could have a dramatically positive effect on artistic creativity and output, as well as on the chronic litigation that plagues music companies. This is relevant to my project because if this type of system were instated, it would drastically change the copyright implications of my songs and how they were greeted and treated. I could potentially release these songs at a much lower time and financial cost; but more important, I would be releasing them legally.
This journal article opens with a hypothetical: The main gist is that you are a successful businessman who one day comes to the office to find a first-year employee sitting at your computer. He is lifting exact portions of your work to incorporate into his own. He argues that because he is new, he should be entitled to borrow and quote your work, even if his final work seems to have your “signature style.”
You would never tolerate this, correct? It would be considered breaking and entering and intellectual property infringement. So why, then, should the music industry tolerate this rampant behavior that occurs through digital sampling?
The author points to the Bridgeport Music court case as what finally stood up for the talents and creative ideas of artists who work to attain their right “signature sound”—the sound that makes them top-selling acts. This piece is written in full support of the Bridgeport decision, with the perspective that the unethical and unlawful use of prior work amounts to copyright infringement. It covers the history of sampling technology, the response of the courts and the music industry to sampling, an analysis on the debate of whether sampling is “art” or “theft,” and lastly, a proposed solution to foster creativity while protecting against unauthorized sampling.
While all of these categories have relevance to my project, I was primarily drawn to the section on sampling as “art” vs. “theft.” In this, three myths are addressed and debunked: one, that sampling is analogous to “borrowing” work owned by others; two, that sampling is an art form and, therefore, samplers should be entitled to freely use copyrighted material; and three, that for a proper balance in copyright law, more protection should be granted to samplers. Every “myth” offers a variety of arguments presented by “free digital sampling” advocates. Each, however, is followed by a critical, thought provoking, and analytical assessment that fully shoots down any point in support of free sampling.
Most sources that focus on sampling and its relation to copyright law seem to draw criticism on the Bridgeport decision and subsequent infringement cases. It was really helpful to have an article that fully supported Bridgeport and the notion that all digital sampling, regardless of length or clarity, needs copyright clearance. Any form of reasoning I could come up with to defend the songs I created was covered—and each was fully and thoughtfully undermined. This adds a particularly interesting aspect and perspective to my project, my songs, and their copyright implication.
“From Mozart to Hip-Hop” discusses the impact of the Bridgeport v. Dimension Films case on the future of digital sampling. The stance in this piece is particularly negative. The author believes that the outcome of this case threatens musical progress and creativity. She compares current sampling in hip-hop to the musical borrowing practices of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s difficult to view sampling as negative when viewed this way if, as stated, it would’ve made some of music’s most famous works impossible. “Mozart to Hip-Hop” argues that the Bridgeport case contradicts the purpose of copyright law, overlooks creative value in sampling, will inhibit the development of new works, and doesn’t take into account the importance of sampling in hip-hop aesthetic. It further stands that the best way to evaluate sampling cases is through de minimis and substantial similarity.
While all of this adds value to my project, I was particularly drawn to the argument that substantial similarity analysis should be the requirement for copyright infringement. What should be important is whether an ordinary listener, without being directly told what to look for, could clearly recognize the appropriation. The “bright-line test” should be irrelevant if the heart or signature sound of the original work isn’t sampled. This substantial similarity law could be the best paradigm in evaluating sampling—it balances copyright protection by promoting artistic development while still fostering the creation of new works since de minimis sampling holds such a negligible potential harm to original artists.
This perspective on de minimis and the Bridgeport case is of great relevance to my creative project. In one of my songs I have samples that I believe aren’t of substantial nature. I am usually pro-copyright and pro-music industry, and while this hasn’t drastically changed, the author’s points and arguments definitely have some legitimate ideas. I can definitely employ this point of view on de minimis when assessing the copyright implications of my music.
Grand Upright Music v. Warner Bros. Records was the court case that started it all when it comes to sampling, copyright infringement, and the necessity of acquiring clearance to sample a copyrighted work. The case was brought against one of Warner Bros. Records’ artists, a rapper named Biz Markie, by Grand Upright Music, which owns the copyrights to singer and songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan. Grand Upright claimed that Biz Markie infringed upon O’Sullivan’s song, “Alone Again (Naturally),” by incorporating a partial piece of the copyrighted song into a rap recording. The court found this to be evident.
Markie’s main argument was that he should be excused from liability for infringing copyright because others in the rap world are also engaging in the illegal activity. The judge was quick to point out that this mere statement could do nothing more than lead to that argument’s own refutation. The judge then pointed to the US copyright laws, as well as even the Seventh Commandment, “Though shalt not steal,” as his basis for siding with Grand Upright. Just because stealing might be rampant in the rap music business, there is no way to view this as excusable or justifiable. The court viewed that appropriating copyrighted work into a new one for the sole aim of economic achievement is a blatant disregard for the law and the rights of others.
With this decision, the face and sound of rap music was forever changed. Until that point, sampling had been widespread in the hip-hop world; some artists had even been using ten to twenty samples a song. Now, all of these samples would have to be cleared—and at a cost. Many artists couldn’t afford to sample after this. At the same time, copyright holders could begin refusing to license their songs for one reason or another.
In my project I have two songs with samples. Had I produced them in 1985, for instance, I wouldn’t have to clear the samples, and I would be able to reap every monetary benefit to their success. After this Grand Upright case, however, things are different. To try and release either of my songs, I would have to go through a costly clearance negotiation with record and publishing companies; and for all I know, even if I offered to pay, they might still not clear my samples.
“Into the Grey” provides an excellent overview, history, and analysis of The Grey Album. This album stands as arguably the most famous and most controversial instance of mash-ups. This text covers what The Grey Album was, how it was produced, the response of record and publishing companies, and the subsequent response by disobedient mash-up and fair use advocates. Further, legal implications and defense possibilities of sampling are discussed, but in the specific context of mash-ups.
The Grey Album, produced by Brain Burton a.k.a. DJ Danger Mouse, is a mash-up album that uses the full vocal content of Jay-Z’s Black Album mixed with instrumentals that can all be traced to the Beatles’ White Album. Every drum hit and instrumental chord was sampled from the Beatles’ album and used as beats for Jay-Z’s vocals to seamlessly rap over. Burton’s mash-up album caught like wildfire, popping up in record stores and on countless websites. The issue, however, was that Burton never received permission from any copyright owners of the Beatles or Jay-Z.
As a result, the Beatles’ record and publishing companies sent Burton a cease and desist letter, explaining how he was infringing their copyrights. He complied and was never brought to court. After only a brief look at the exclusive rights of copyright owners, it is beyond doubt that had the case been brought to court, The Grey Album fully infringed on their rights. Discontent fans didn’t take kindly to this realization though—they organized a day of “civil disobedience” called “Grey Tuesday,” in which hundreds of websites hosted The Grey Album for download.
The author suggests using de minimis laws as a defense, but as we know, this might no longer stand up. Instead, the only viable defense is fair use. This would unlikely be successful because although The Grey Album is highly transformative, it is a commercial product and not intended to criticize or parody. The core artistic work is also appropriated. And since copyright owners enjoy the rights to control adaptations through licenses—where they can make money by choosing to license—The Grey Album might negatively affect the ability to license further samples, and therefore is of potential harm.
This comment is an excellent resource for my project. It first provides a thorough overview of The Grey Album and following episodes. This albums stands as an example of what would potentially happen to me if I chose to release my mash-ups. More important, however, is the discussion of fair use defense for mash-ups and the opinion that it would never hold up in court. This addresses a potential defense for my mash-ups and why it might not work.
The “Music, Money, and Sampling” chapter (6) of the book Music, Money, and Success (by Jeffrey Brabec) offers a thorough overview of how sampling works within the music business. It provides an all-encompassing layout of how deals usually go down between copyright holders of a song—artists, record labels, or music publishing companies—and someone who wants to take a portion of that existing song and integrate it into a newly recorded performance—songwriter, recording artist, or record producer. It serves as a tutorial for someone interested in the standard operating procedures of procuring clearances. It can also serve as a source of knowledge to someone curious about how music companies and artists are compensated for allowing samples from their catalog. It ranges from what happens when sampled songs are released without permission to the in-depth negotiating options that exist between the sampling party and the sampled party when clearance is approved.
The options mentioned are one-time “buy-out” fees, the payment of a percentage of income received from the new song, and the transfer of a portion of the copyright of the new composition with the income that this would generate. Also mentioned are the criteria that copyright holders use in analyzing the new song to help determine types of deals. This type of analysis takes into account: duration of sample, nature of the sample, sales of the new song if it has been released, and whether the sample was a key element or recognizable piece of the original composition. Although there is nothing exact, as it comes down to negotiating, the specific percentages that copyright holders usually bargain are covered.
The information in this chapter is relevant to my creative project because all of it would be applicable if I were to try and clear the songs I produced by integrating copyrighted work. Here I can see how companies would analyze my music and the type of deal I could expect. It really covers just what people have to go through to clear their samples and how much money they forgive in doing so—paying for the sample and then losing out on publishing percentages. On top of all of this, the chapter helped give me a greater perspective on why so many artists were outraged over court decisions regarding sampling…it cost them a lot of money, and some probably couldn’t afford to keep sampling at all!
Music, Money, and Success
Schirmer Books; 2nd edition (October 15, 2000)
Newton v. Diamond is a court case that, similar to Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films, revolves around de minimis sampling. The case involves the rap group, the Beastie Boys, and accomplished jazz flutist, James Newton. The Beastie Boys, in their song “Pass the Mic,” sampled a very small segment of Newton’s recording, “Choir.” The sample was a six-second, three-note snippet of Newton playing the flute. The Beastie Boys acquired a license for the actual sound recording from a record company, but they didn’t obtain one for the underlying musical composition from Newton. The court held that the three-note segment of the composition of “Choir” could not be copyrighted because it lacked requisite originality; further, it stated that if the segment had been copyrightable, the Beastie Boy’s use was de minimis.
The analysis on de minimis, unlike in the Bridgeport case, was on the musical composition, not the sound recording. First, the three-note sequence wasn’t the heart of the work and was insubstantial as it appeared once within the four and one-half minute song. Even more important, though, is that the note sequence in question—C – D flat – C, over a held C note—doesn’t contain sufficient originality to be awarded copyright protection. There are only so many notes, chords, and chord progressions available to musicians. Therefore, some of these basic notes and progressions can’t be “owned” by anyone.
With this type of court decision and interpretation of copyright and de minimis laws, the need for certain sample clearances becomes void. Along with the outcome of the Bridgeport case, if I sampled a one-note snippet of a song, I would still need licensing from whoever owns the master recordings. With the Newton v. Diamond case, however, I would now only need licensing from the record company, for instance, and wouldn’t need to seek approval from a composer or music publishing company. The composer doesn’t own the rights to certain notes, and therefore I can sample certain compositions.
This is an important differentiation for me, or anyone who samples for that matter. It is definitely something to take into consideration for my songs that sample and any future song that I produce. It would allow me to sample small segments and only have to clear them with record companies, saving me time and money. This is an interesting wrinkle in copyright law that is certainly relevant and applicable.