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I haven't seen Negativland's NY show. Their work was perhaps better before they got radicalized by their U2 lawsuit--when sampling was the tool rather than the content. I listened to a couple of recent pieces which were all about stealing and the reaction was "enough already." Partly touched off by their coming to NY, a few of us had a rough and tumble discussion a couple of posts back about sampling and copyright. G.K. Wicker, a great musician and no fan of sampling, takes the position that musicians should be compensated for their efforts, recommending that we sampling proponents first master an instrument to understand its value: "after many years of frustration and endless boring practice of scales and etudes, you'll start to understand just how priceless those juicy little phrases everyone's so eager to load into their samplers really are." On the flip side, he says, as long as you don't try to sell what you sample, you don't run afoul of copyright law. He has more to say and I'm grossly paraphrasing here, so please follow the link and read it. But since it's my bully pulpit, let me be a bastard and quote some of my own responses here, edited for continuity and syntax with a couple of new points thrown in:

1. It's not true that corporations leave you alone as long as you don't sell. An example from the video front: Eric Fensler's hilarious remixes of old GI Joe public service announcements, totally free downloads enjoyed by many on the Net, led to a cease and desist letter from Hasbro's lawyers. Fensler had to move them off his own site, presumably to a server that could take the heat from the Man. Copyright is becoming an egregiously overused weapon to stifle anything a company doesn't like.

2. I wouldn't use the word stealing in relation to samples. The Beasties' Paul's Boutique is a great album, especially the first ten minutes or so. It's a completely new creation, relying on quick hits of recognition of others' work meshed with new content. Is it stealing when a live drummer throws in a couple of bars of Gene Krupa? Usually audiences are delighted by that kind of quotation. That's all it is, quotation--record company lawyers and the word "stealing" brought an end to a beautiful, creative period in music

3. Courts don't know squat about music and don't--won't--discriminate, use-of-sampling wise, between the hook in Ice Ice Baby and two seconds of an unidentifiable Chuck Mangione lick in some chillout track. To the company lawyers it's all stealing, and thus we have bad, un-nuanced precedents in the law books.

4. Just because the legal issue has been decided--in favor of the folks with cash, what a surprise--doesn't mean it's been decided morally. I try to look at it not just as a "collage artist" but as a maker of whole-cloth works who frankly wouldn't mind seeing or hearing a chunk of them here or there in another context. Fragmentation and recontextualization changes the art--the amount of sweat you put into a piece only means something in the context of that piece. The chunk sampled could be great because you worked or great because of some studio accident that had nothing to do with how hard you worked. As for the relative offensiveness or inoffensiveness of the size and usage of the sampled "chunk," that should be a matter of degree and intent, but that's not the law, thanks to the Turtles, U2, et al.

5. The sampling suits aren't silly [compared to other forms of corporate malfeasance], especially not to anyone who's on the receiving end of them. Litigation drains you emotionally and financially.

6. Lots of people who look in on this page have mastered a craft--whether it be playing an instrument, painting a photorealistic picture, or inventing an art form that hasn't even been recognized yet. For everyone who thinks he's entitled to every nickel he can wring out of the expertise, there are others who know it can never be copped or diminished by sampling; that imitation is flattery whether or not it puts money in the cash drawer--that they are The Maestro.

7. I'm not too persuaded by cults of expertise. Segovia mastered his craft but we still value the Troggs (at least some of us do). As for somebody who mashes up Segovia and the Troggs...well, that's doomed to be an underground phenomenon and we'll never know its wider value, thanks to the courts and the inflexibility of the "get paid for everything" viewpoint.

- tom moody 9-14-2005 7:10 pm [link]