Oct 28, 2009

Copyright Criminals:This is a Sampling Sport

5:25 PM


"Good composers don't borrow, they steal." - Igor Stravinsky

I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Copyright Criminals at the San Francisco Public Library. This documentary, produced by Benjamin Franzen & Kembrew McLeod, analyzes the debate of sampling, artistic creativity & ownership, copyright law and money (or the greed of it).




Hip-hop as we know it today is a multibillion dollar industry that started off in the streets of New York in the late 1970's. It is an artistic movement represented in 4 core elements - MC'ing, breakdancing, graffiti, and DJ'ing.  The music's foundation is based on the creation of beats by looping breaks off of vinyl records by a DJ on 2 turntables: sampling. With the lack of instruments and music programs for urban youths, the creation of music had to be improvised by using the sampling technique. No one cared about the hip-hop movement until it started making money. Using artists work without permission became a big no-no. Someone needed to get slap on the wrist. Someone had to pay and someone had to get paid. Of course, the people who profit are the ones who police the art form-major music labels and lawyers. Many times, the original artists/musicians do not get compensated. More tragically, these artists often do not even get recognized.

The film features several of hip-hop's founding and current artists, DJ's and producers: Public Enemy, DJ Q-Bert, Miho Hatori, Eydea & Abilities, De La Soul, and Hank Shocklee just to name a few. It also features artists who have been sampled: Led Zepplin, The Beatles and George Clinton. One of my favorite moments of the film, is the in-depth look at Clyde Stubblefield. Mr. Stubblefield was a drummer for James Brown. He is the most sampled musician with his groove on James Brown, "Funky Drummer", being the most sampled record.


Copyright Criminals will air nationally on the Emmy award winning PBS series, Independent Lens in January 2010. Make sure to check your local listings to view this excellent film.

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