The Insane Chain Of Sampling Rights: How A Folk Song Collector Became A 'Co-Author' On A Jay-Z Song
from the ah-the-ridiculousness-of-copyright-law dept
A bunch of folks have been sending over Ethan Hein's brilliant step-by-step explanation of how Alan Lomax is credited as a co-author on a Jay-Z song. You have to read the whole thing, which includes video explanations, and this wonderful chart:
But that graphic alone doesn't do the full story justice. Lomax has nothing to do with Jay-Z's song... at all. Lomax went around "collecting" recordings of various folks songs, including recording some prisoners at Parchman Farm singing a traditional worksong. But since he recorded it, he got the copyright on the recording (though he shouldn't have one on the composition). That worksong, "Rosie," was used as the basis of the song "Inside, Looking Out" by The Animals, which was then covered by Grand Funk Railroad. KRS-One sampled a single guitar riff from the GFR song in his hit "Sound of da Police" (woop! woop!). Notice, at this point, that nothing from the original Lomax song in any way is in the KRS-One song. No matter. Still need to get the license apparently. Then we finally get to Jay-Z, who sampled the line "Watch out, we run New York!" from the KRS-One song in his song "Takeover." Now we're even further removed from Lomax (or the original song). Jay-Z sampled just the vocal -- not the music (which already had nothing to do with Lomax's recording). But... hey, thanks to copyright laws, guess who Jay-Z had to credit and pay? Yeah.
As Hein points out:
As Hein points out:
The copyright maze is no obstacle to Jay-Z — he has the money, lawyers and connections to clear whatever he wants. But what about up-and-coming or unheard-of artists? What if they want to use samples? Should the most vital art form of our time be the exclusive province of forty-year-old multimillionaires? And grateful as I am to Alan Lomax for recording and disseminating so much great folk music, I remain baffled as to why he was allowed to copyright it. Our creative heritage deserves better stewardship than our current laws provide.Honestly, I think there's a strong argument that Lomax shouldn't be in this chain at all. He possibly could have held the copyright on the sound recording (though, even there, there's a question of whether or not the singer's have a stronger claim), but not the composition. And as soon as we get to the Animals version (just one step removed) we're no longer dealing with the original sound recording, but just the composition, over which Lomax has no legitimate claim. The fact that the claim stuck and has carried on down through this insane chain really is quite amazing and a testament to just how screwed up the world of clearing samples has become today.