David Levine points us to Tim Wu's latest article at Slate about the rise of what he calls "sample trolls," who are similar to patent trolls, but focus on suing anyone who samples music. The interesting thing here is that the companies (or individuals) doing this often obtain the rights to the various songs under very questionable means. In at least one case, it sounds like the most well known guy doing this, under the name of Bridgetport Music, simply forged George Clinton's name to assign himself the rights to a lot of his music (which was then sampled quite a lot by hip hop artists). Unfortunately, Bridgeport (who just last week sued Jay-Z) has won some court cases, including one in the 6th Circuit that claimed that any sampling without a license was illegal. That seems to (again) be a stretch of the purpose of fair use, and the reasoning behind copyright. Wu makes the case that these sample trolls do nothing to encourage creativity and the production of new content, and a great deal to hinder it and make it more expensive. A few years ago, we looked at the music industry in Jamaica, where the idea of sampling wasn't just common, it is encouraged and embraced as a core part of the music industry, and it's only resulted in more creative output, as musicians take the different pieces that others have used and try to outdo each other in making something better out of it. Yet, if that were happening in the US, there would be lawsuits involving companies like Bridgeport Music, who do nothing to encourage creativity, and a lot less music. How is that considered in line with the purpose of intellectual property as an incentive to create new content?
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