A few weeks back when we mentioned that the musical act Girl Talk
was releasing a new album using the pay what you want
model, one element we didn't dwell on was the fact that Girl Talk's genre might be best described as "mash up music." That is, Greg Gillis, the guy who is Girl Talk, takes samples from tons of songs and mixes them together to create something totally new. While there may be some who disagree, listening to Girl Talk, I find it difficult to believe that Gillis is any less of a musician than the musicians he samples -- he's just playing a different kind of instrument.
But there's a big question -- whether or not Girl Talk's albums are legal or are they basically massive copyright infringement cases. If Gillis were to actually go around licensing all the snippets he samples, such an album would be impossible to make -- showing (yet again) how copyright would act as disincentive for creation rather than incentive. So far Gillis hasn't actually been sued, though that seems unlikely to last. On the positive side, some big name musicians interviewed in a recent Wall Street Journal article about Girl Talk sound much more honored than litigious to be included on a Girl Talk album
. However, with over 300 samples used on the album, there's almost certainly going to be a few who get upset. The article, for example, suggests that the woman in charge of the copyright for the band the Guess Who is planning to go after Girl Talk, noting that: "We'll chase it down. What more can you do?" Well, actually, there's plenty more that you can do -- such as recognizing that no one who hears the music on Girl Talk is going to see that as a replacement
to the Guess Who's album -- and, if anything, it might entice new fans to the original.
But, eventually a legal battle is going to pop up -- and while Gillis and his label are banking on "fair use" claims to protect them, the history of court cases on this particular question have shown the courts (wrongly) seem to count nearly any
sample, no matter how minor to require
a license. This has created a small industry of "sample trolls"
getting the rights to various songs (often via very questionable means) and then suing anyone who samples just a few notes from it. It seems quite likely that sooner or later someone is going to go after Gillis for this. And, while it's nice that some artists are honored by Gillis's use of their music, that probably won't stop others from suing. Luckily, Gillis has at least one big supporter
in Congress -- and perhaps a lawsuit against him will help bring this issue to the attention of lawmakers.