Screening/Copyright Criminals – Sampling a Crime?

23Sep10

On the edge of town, in a place called SOMISSPO (SOMA/Mission/Potrero), Matt Kaftor of SF Bicycle Coalition packed club Mighty with a crowd of concerned musicians, etc. for a night of screening, chatting and dancing.  Performing were Kid Kameleon, Joe Mousepad, The Polish Ambassador, Slayers Club and joining the panel too Steinski, AMP Live with Larissa Mann, Jeff Chang, EFF and Tony Berman of BEAT.  The message:  There is no easy, legal way to sample sound recordings in remixes, no compulsory licensing, no central public rights clearinghouse.  For samples to be legally licensed they need to be negotiated individually with the rights owners if one can identify them which is not always possible even with the help of services like The Rights Workshop.  In many cases, the artist may not own the rights to their own music (e.g. George Clinton).  By contrast, to license a cover, all one needs to do is visit www.harryfoxagency.com for a compulsory fee.  This friction forces the sampling economy to exist under the radar, manipulating the sound bite and making it tighter until unrecognizable.  Many happily risk success.

Copyright Criminals
is in the same class of doc as RIP: A Remix Manifesto exploring ways to balance the right to profit from one’s IP and making a living off of copyright, and the need for cultural sharing and freedom of expression to forge bits and pieces of new influences and make something original.  Questions that arose:  Why can’t I post a sample of a song on Facebook that was a significant part of my childhood?  Why can’t covers be contextualized when that protection exists for film docs? (referencing Stairway to Gilligan’s Island not being found to be parody)  As there’s value in generational rediscovery every 30 years and cultural heritage disappears without reprint, what is the economic viability of a work when sampling brings it back to life?

Technology often obscelesces law – and music is not waiting for anyone. Find out for yourself.  PBS will be rebroadcasting Copyright Criminals on November 30.

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