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:
The copyright maze is no obstacle to Jay-Z ó 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.
We recently wrote about the ridiculous pains to which the producing crew for Jay-Z and Kanye West's new album went through to try to prevent the album from leaking. After we wrote that, we actually got some detailed information showing that for all that effort, the album actually did leak (via a hacker) who tried to sell it, but the asking price was too high. Either way, for a crew so concerned (supposedly) about "infringement," you might think they'd also be focused on making sure their own album didn't infringe. However, not everyone feels they did so.
Apparently R&B/soul singer Syl Johnson, who has gone after an awful lot of musicians for sampling his work is considering suing over an uncleared sample on the album. His publisher put up a blog post about this, though that blog post has been taken down now. The blog post was full of bluster about just how much money other artists pay Johnson:
"Two decades and several lawsuits later, Syl Johnson is a veteran of copyright infringement cases, and has done very well for himself clearing samples from his fertile catalog (we're glad to say we've helped him with a few) for use in numerous tracks," reads part of the post. "He's been amply paid, as he is quick to boast in his concerts, by acts like Wu-Tang Clan, Kid Rock, and Michael Jackson. Other performers ... have not been so respectful."
Perhaps some of that time spent "locking up" the album could have been spent on making sure the samples were actually cleared. Of course, the process for clearing samples is pretty ridiculous these days, and it's not surprising that a sample might fall through the cracks. But, once again, this really highlights the difference between "leaks" and "infringement." While we were told that the efforts to keep the work locked up showed how much the two hip hop stars were concerned about "piracy," it seems clear that they were much more concerned about the marketing aspect, and having the album become available when they wanted, rather than any great deference to copyright law.
One of our usual critics pointed us to a recent article at Billboard about the insane lengths that Jay-Z, Kanye West and the producers of their joint album went through to keep the album from leaking early. The whole thing sounds pretty extreme. They recorded in "pop up" studios they set up in hotel rooms, rather than at real recording studios. Then there were three key engineers who turned off all computer WiFi in the rooms. Collaborators were not allowed to hear tracks outside of the room (so no emailing around tracks for ideas). Everything had to happen in person. Meanwhile, all the work was saved on hard drives locked up in a briefcase. The drives apparently had biometric security, in that you could only access them with a fingerswipe matching fingerprints.
And, amazingly, all of this "worked." The album apparently was released on time without any leaks. Our critic said this proves that I'm a liar when I say "musicians don't care about piracy." Of course, I've never said nor implied any such thing. I know that plenty of musicians "care" about piracy. But this story first of all wasn't about "piracy" so much as it was about leaks. It's clear from the article that it wasn't about the economic threat of a pre-release, but how it fit into the marketing strategy. Jay-Z wanted to try to get people to listen to the whole album.
On top of that, all the crazy "CIA" stuff isn't what stopped the album from leaking. For all the talk of "hackers" breaking into computers and grabbing copies of tracks early, most tracks leak because of one thing: someone in the final processing chain gets the master early and leaks the tracks. The reason this album didn't leak early was because they delivered the masters as close to the release as possible. Any artist who wants to avoid leaks really just needs to do something like that, and ignore the Mission Impossible crap.
But the larger point is... is something like this even worth it? The article also notes that others may follow suit. But I'm curious if the "cost" really is worth it. It limits the creative freedom (such as emailing back and forth tracks). It does little to nothing to stop actual infringement. All it does is make sure the marketing plan goes down without anyone being able to listen to it early or help promote it on blogs and such when it comes out. If anything it seems to ignore the modern marketing strategy, where new tracks are purposely leaked to get the buzz going. I'm sure the album will do fine, given the two names attached to it. But I don't' see how this has anything to do with "piracy," and I can't see how any "benefit" outweighs the cost. I have to imagine that if other artists go down this same path, they're going to discover it's a waste of time and money for almost no benefit.
Toney Rome contacted us to point our attention to a 14-minute video he put together, showing how music is collaborative. He claims this is episode one, so it'll be interesting to see if there will be more. He noted that he was inspired to put this video together after reading James Boyle's The Public Domain, which he first heard about when we mentioned it on Techdirt. I have to imagine that much of this video was inspired by Chapter 6, which traces a variety of songs related to Kanye West and Ray Charles. Instead of Kanye West, this video starts with Jay-Z:
While a few bits of the video seem extraneous and probably could be done without, what the video does nicely is track how even modern "original" music is very, very collaborative when you start to dig into the details. It talks about Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, a song that has been redone hundreds of times, and notes how the underlying music loop is from The Moment's song Love on a Two-Way Street -- and how that song was written by Sylvia Robinson and two others (and how it also was covered and sampled a few other times before). Robinson, beyond being a recording artist, started Sugar Hill Records, and went on to put together the Sugar Hill Gang... who put out the first rap single to go gold: Rapper's Delight. That song, of course, was based on an (originally uncleared) sample of the classic disco song Good Times by the band Chic. The video has two clips of one of the songwriters of Good Times. In the first one, he talks about how his music was "sacred" and how annoyed he was to hear it sampled on Rapper's Delight without permission (eventually the two parties settled...). In the second clip, however, the same guy talks about how Good Times was actually pulling from Milton Alger's Happy Days Are Here Again and About a Quarter to Nine by Al Jolson. In other words... that song that was so "sacred" was built off of the works of others.
There's a lot more in the video, including a variety of other interesting tangents, including the fact that one of the lyrics from Rapper's Delight copied a lyric from another rapper so directly that it includes that rapper's name in the lyric. The video concludes with a great line:
Many musicians like to believe that they created their art by themselves, but most likely, it was collaboration.
You may recall last fall we wrote about one of Dan Bull's excellent tracks commenting on copyright issues, called Death Of ACTA. You can see the video for the song here:
Dan Bull has embraced file sharing -- not surprisingly, given the subject matter of many of his songs -- and placed the song on various sharing networks and sites, including the cyberlocker Mediafire. Obviously, he did so on purpose, with the desire that more people hear the song. However, he noted with a bit of irony recently that the song on Mediafire was taken down due to a copyright claim. Considering the whole song is about the overreaching efforts of copyright as censorship, this seems pretty ironic.
Dan was kind enough to forward on the takedown message... and it's a total mess. There's simply no useful info in it other than that a French company called TF1 wants the file (and a bunch of others) off of Mediafire as quickly as possible. Now, it's not clear what the issue is here, but it's not difficult to take a guess. "Death of ACTA" is obviously a play on Jay-Z's "Death of Autotune" Jay-Z's song features prominently a sample of the song "In the Space" by French film composers Janko Nilovic and Dave Sarkys. It's quite likely that Jay-Z licensed the sample. Not surprisingly, Dan Bull did not, but that's the nature of creating a parody song.
Also, since all of this is happening in Europe, there aren't fair use laws. Dan would probably have a stronger argument in the US. In Europe, it's a bit more of a crap shoot. Of course, the whole thing is pretty silly if you think about it. Is there any less demand for "In the Space," due to Dan's song? Anyone who suggests that's the case is not in touch with reality.
In the end, though, how ridiculous is it that a song that's all about the excessive nature of copyright law ends up being subject to a takedown notice itself? It seems to encapsulate everything that the song is talking about as being ridiculous concerning copyright law. The song is, of course, still available in lots of other places, though it will be interesting to see if TF1 starts going after it elsewhere as well. I'm guessing that each takedown will only draw that much more attention to Dan's song and the ridiculousness of copyright law today, if it creates a situation where a clear commentary about copyright law gets taken down... by copyright law.
A few months back we wrote about jazz musician Jason Parker, who was doing a variety of interesting experiments on the business model side, and also making some top notch music (his No More, No Less album has become a regular in my "albums to work to" list...). He's been working on a new project of jazz interpretations of Nick Drake's first album, funded in part via Kickstarter. Of course, lots of albums are being funded via Kickstarter these days, so there was nothing all that special about that (other than that it's a cool idea).
Not thinking about any of this, I sent him some rough mixes of the forthcoming JPQ Nick Drake CD because I respect his ears and wanted to hear what he thought. What I got back was this remix. He cut up our take of "Day Is Done" with Jay-Z's "Can't Knock The Hustle", and lo and behold it was magic! Spek then asked for more mixes, so I sent him all 10 tracks. He cut 'em all up with various Jay-Z tunes and we now have a full remix album, completed before the original tunes. Go figure...
So enjoy this little sneak-peak into not one, but two forthcoming CDís! You'll get to hear the rest sometime toward the end of March.
There are a few different things to note here. First, it's pretty cool to see just how excited Parker is about all of this. He sent off a work to a friend, who sent back a very cool mashup with a different artist from a different genre and asked for more. Parker happily sent the other tracks over, and now he's thrilled that he's got a full remix/mashup album ready before he's even released his new album. Thankfully, Jay-Z has also made it clear over the years that he isthrilled and "honored" to have his work remixed with others.
Of course, in a very traditional sense, there's an awful lot of "infringement" going on here, but most of the parties are happily ignoring that because they realize that what comes out of it is something really cool. It might not match your personal taste in music, but it's pretty cool to think that three very different artists all end up coming together to create something magical and enjoyable, and part of it happened just because a third party ("Spek") decided to make it happen.
However, there are a few quotes concerning copyright and sampling that are most interesting. For example, there's a discussion about the infamous Grey Album -- a mashup by DJ Danger Mouse mixing The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album. As you probably know, EMI went insane over this release, threatening to sue everyone -- as it has done since then on other Beatles mashups to this day. However, I can't recall ever hearing anything, one way or the other, about Jay-Z's opinion on the album, and it's basically the opposite of the way EMI/The Beatles reacted (from about 12:50 in the interview):
Terry Gross: "So I've got to ask you how you feel about the Grey Album, which is the mash-up that Danger Mouse did of your Black Album and the Beatles' White Album, without any copyright permission. So, how do you feel about it musically and how do you feel about the fact that he did it?"
Jay-Z: "I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity and that was a genius idea to do it, and it sparked so many others like it. There are other ones that, you know, it's really good, there are other ones that, because of the blueprint that was set by him, that I think are a little better. But, you know, him being the first and having the idea; I thought it was genius."
Terry Gross: "Did you feel ripped off by the fact that he used your music on it without paying for it? Or did you think it doesnít matter, itís really good art."
Jay-Z: "No, I was actually honored that, you know, someone took the time to mash those records up with Beatles records. I was honored to be on, you know, quote-unquote the same song with the Beatles."
If you listen to the actual audio, you can hear his sincerity on that last part. Later on (around 23:45), he talks about the process of getting permission to sample Hard Knock Life, highlighting the ridiculousness of permission culture. While he was thrilled about having others sample his music and do stuff with it, when it came to getting the rights for Hard Knock Life, he had to convince the original songwriters to let him sample it, and to do so he told "a big lie" concerning how he had seen the play, Annie, on Broadway as a kid, and had written an essay for some school essay contest about the importance of seeing Annie on Broadway. While the original songwriter of Hard Knock Life notes that he was happy with the Jay-Z song, it still highlights one of the problems with permission culture. Basically, Jay-Z had to beg (and lie) to create art.
Of course, that version -- a parody of the original -- was really just picking up on a popular trend showing up all over YouTube: people rewriting and performing Empire State of Mind with lyrics to reflect their own hometowns or other cultural groups. They were everywhere. A few months back, I remembered seeing one site list out 55 of the best such parodies (some much better than others), including all sorts of cities, big and small, as well as random other versions, such as College Humor's amusing Galactic Empire State of Mind, starring Darth Vader.
So, it seemed a bit odd that, nearly a year after this phenomenon, yet another of these parodies, called the Newport State of Mind, about the Welsh town of Newport went viral, with over a million views, but such is life in the viral video world.
Even odder? Apparently EMI has issued a takedown notice for just that one video pulling it off YouTube. This is despite literally hundreds of Empire State of Mind parodies on YouTube. Those 55 best parodies? They're all on YouTube (with the exception of the Darth Vader one...). Honestly, I thought this had to be a mistake, or some weird Content ID error by YouTube. Considering the vast number of these parodies that have all remained up this whole time, would EMI really issue a takedown for this one parody?
However, EMI seems to have confirmed that it's taken down the video. According to the BBC report:
A statement from EMI said: "When a song is created based wholly on any of our writers' works, those writers need to grant their permission.
"If that permission isn't granted, then we ask the service in question to remove the song."
And what about all those other parodies? And, of course, at least in the US, parody is often protected as fair use. I recognize this particular parody was done in Wales, but, still, the decision to take down this one video seems really, really odd.
Oh, and one other bit of irony? In looking up some of these parodies, I found this article, which notes that the key musical hook used by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are sampled from a 1970s track from The Moments called Love on A Two Way Street:
So, it's a bit amusing that EMI is complaining about others building on top of this particular work...