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Copyright Criminals: PBS Documentary on Sampling

Cameron Parkins, January 15th, 2010

Copyright Criminals is a new documentary on the rise of sampling, specifically in hip-hop music, and the cultural and legal effects it has caused. From the Copyright Criminals website:

Copyright Criminals examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and (of course) money.

This documentary traces the rise of hip-hop from the urban streets of New York to its current status as a multibillion-dollar industry. For more than thirty years, innovative hip-hop performers and producers have been re-using portions of previously recorded music in new, otherwise original compositions. When lawyers and record companies got involved, what was once referred to as a “borrowed melody” became a “copyright infringement.”The film showcases many of hip-hop music’s founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital Underground—while also featuring emerging hip-hop artists from record labels Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers, Ninja Tune, and more.

The film will be broadcast publicly on PBS this Tuesday night, January 19th so be sure to check your local listings for time. You can get a taste of what is in store by watching the film’s trailer and starting January 26th you will be able purchase the film on DVD.

In conjunction with the film’s development a contest was held at ccMixter challenging community members to sample select voice-overs from the film to create an original track. Winner Dermes’ track Sounds that Sound good is featured on the Copyright Criminals DVD as well as a compilation CD featuring the other 12 top entries. All of the tracks are available for free at ccMixter under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license.

Lastly, for those in New York City, a party is being held this Tuesday (1/19) at The Brooklyn Bowl to celebrate the film’s premiere and DVD release. The night will feature appearances by EL-P, Eclectic Method, Mr. Len and DJ Spooky – doors open at 8PM to be followed by the PBS Broadcast Premiere at 10PM.

One Response to “Copyright Criminals: PBS Documentary on Sampling”

  1. Matthew says:

    I remember seeing this episode air originally a few years ago.

    Sampling plays such a huge role in hiphop, and it’s arguable that by the time a good producer is done with a sample, it’s really not the same as the original… Mind you, some sampling is pretty blatantly just trying to ride the coat-tails and popularity of the original song.

    At first, they didn’t really take rap and hiphop seriously, thus producers were able to get away with more in terms of sampling. These days, with it being one of the most popular genres and a lot more money at stake, it’s harder to slip under the radar when it comes to “borrowing” samples.

    In either case, stealing is stealing, and artists deserve to get paid for their work, but it’s a shame that this puts a hindrance on some really unique remixes and sampled tracks coming out.

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