This article is a response to a post Mark Schoneveld made on his blog Yvynyl. The original post can be seen here.
This post popped up on my tumblr dashboard and of course, I felt a need to get my two cents in on this issue. To summarize, TV Girl is one of the many bands that sample small pieces of other songs and puts them into their own music. One of TV Girl’s tracks sample Todd Rungen‘s Hello, It’s Me. When the TV Girl track that sampled the song began to get popular the band reached out to the copyright holders in order to get the sample cleared but the terms of the agreement would have been completely unreasonable. The band argues that their use of the sample falls under the protection of “fair use”.
The art of sampling music in particular has been around for a while. Not too long ago I put together a longer post about “The Future of R&B and Pop Music” where I discussed the art of sampling, citing examples from an Altered Zones profile on James Ferraro and DJ Shadow’s 1994 LP titled “Endtroducing…”, which was the first record that was composed completely of samples from other records.
The ability of being able to sample another artist’s music without permission is something that has been being fought over since the early ninties. Before 1991, when this technology was still new, sampling in most genres was a widely accepted practice. However, the 1991 case Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. changed those rules. The end ruling of this case was that all samples used after the court ruling would have to be preapproved by the original copyright owners, as long as both parties agreed “to a level of legally cognizable appropriation.” It is important to note that even after this court ruling minimal uses of sampling were still allowed.
Recently, however, the use of minimal samples without permission of the appropriate copyright holder has been reversed in the Sixth Circuit Court decision of the case Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films. This court ruling stated that the argument of de minimis (minimal things) does not apply to the sampling of music.
In my personal opinion, I believe that artists should be allowed to sample other music. Independent music is great because it gives more creative ability to the artist. The recordings may be very rough and lo-fi, but put simply it allows an artist to have full control over the music they are producing. This might not be the case when signed to a major record label. As a listener and a fan of independent music, I want artists to be able to be creative as possible, creating their music by any means they see fit. As technology moves forward we’ve had the advantage of merging more electronic-based effects into music, and I have personally really enjoyed the results. The reason why we don’t hear about this problem often is because the independent music niche is still a small (but growing) part of the music industry and the fact that someone from a record label would have to sit down and listen to music all day to try and identify a sample that vaguely sounds like something they’ve released. This of course is in reference to minimal samples.
The moral of the story is: If you want to take a small sample without permission from a song by a major artist, don’t email the label telling them that you did, because most likely they’ll have never found out if you hadn’t told them.