Andy on the Road

18 January 2010

Excellent documentary “Copyright Criminals” to air on PBS tomorrow night

Filed under: copyleft,intellectual property,lawsandsausages,music,oyez — Andy @ 3:32 pm

While my friends in MA may have other coverage to keep them glued to the screen, if you find yourself with some free time tomorrow night you should definitely catch Copyright Criminals, a documentary by Kembrew McLeod and Benjamin Franzen. I got a chance to see this as part of the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit back in October and found it inspiring, entertaining, and thought provoking. (So thought provoking, in fact, that an entire conference panel was dedicated to discussing it the next day, and it lead me to draft a law journal article on this topic.)

From the movie’s website comes this description:

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.

It also provides an in-depth look at artists who have been sampled, such as Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer and the world’s most sampled musician), as well as commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend George Clinton.As artists find ever more inventive ways to insert old influences into new material, this documentary asks a critical question, on behalf of an entire creative community: Can you own a sound?

As I argue in my note (as much of which I will post as I can in the spring), sampling has become an integral part of our musical identity, and extends naturally from earlier traditions of borrowing which go as far back as music itself. The sampling clearance process as a business is plagued with problems which stile creativity. But this is a complicated business with many, many players, and each wants both a say and a cut of the profits. Copyright Criminals does a great job highlighting many of the key players here: the samplers, the sampled, and the various agents and managers involved in the sampling process.

The documentary also has a DVD release slated for 26 Jan, and as Creative Commons points out there will be a release party tomorrow night in Brooklyn (at the Brooklyn Bowl) with the likes of EL-P, Eclectic Method, and DJ Spooky.

Check your local listings for showtimes. (In DC: WVPT and WCVE-TV air at 10PM tomorrow, WETA airs next Sunday a midnight; in MA: MPBN, CPTV at 10PM tomorrow, WGBX World (‘GBH 44.2)  on Wednesday at 9AM, 3PM, and 8PM, NHPTV Saturday at midnight, Sunday at 11PM).

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