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Making art in the age of abusive copyright enforcement.
Negativland and Public Enemy are two '80s groups who became experts on copyright whether they wanted to be or not. U2's overbearing record label forced Negativland to defend appropriation theory in court (and radicalized them to a point of complete obsession on this issue, as trauma has a way of doing); Public Enemy quickly learned what they could and couldn't create after sampling suits brought hiphop's most innovative phase to a halt. Negativland now maintains an online database relating to "fair use" and other copyright issues (be sure to check out their interview with U2's The Edge if you haven't), and Public Enemy's Chuck D and Hank Shocklee recently gave an industry-savvy interview on "how copyright changed hiphop." Along with law professor Lawrence Lessig (and many others) these groups are urging fundamental changes to American copyright laws. This is important but don't expect it to happen anytime soon, given the strength of the music and film industry lobbies. For those planning to make art in the meantime, these are your sole options:
1. Stay poor. The humorless twit who sued Jeff Koons over that "string of puppies" photo would never have done it if Koons hadn't been an "art star." Very few people sue to make a point (except RIAA); it's too expensive.
2. Record live versions of other people's songs, or song fragments, for the sole purpose of sampling them--you avoid the "master recording" fee for the sample and only have to pay the "publication" fee. Just kidding: this is actually done by the big-bucks hiphop performers, as described in the Chuck D/Hank Shocklee interview, but it sounds fake as hell--essentially having a lawyer as a creative partner.
3. Stay several steps ahead of the shysters by mutating the sounds so they're virtually untraceable. A lot of drum and bass producers do this. You don't get that bang of recognition ("Oh that's Richard Dawson in Running Man!") but the texture of the sound is yours to play with.
4. Make completely original art. No more samples, no more collage, it's back to the Modernist dictate "make it new." It's always possible you heard or saw something subconsciously that crept into your work and could get you sued, but creativity isn't just about mixing up other people's stuff. (Dumb, I know; I just put it in in case Jed Perl stumbled across the page).