Michael Jackson, Pirate Remixer

from the but-of-course dept

We always hear stories about how copyright has to be protected to "protect the artists," and yet time and time again we learn that some of the biggest name artists will often copy directly from each other without credit or payment. It's the way music is made. In James Boyle's excellent book, The Public Domain, there's a really fantastic chapter giving plenty of examples of this in practice. However, Rob Hyndman recently pointed us to another such example, found via Wikipedia, but backed up via its sources of course. The discussion? It's about where Michael Jackson's famous song Billie Jean came from. Turns out, Jackson himself admitted to copying the bass line directly from a Hall and Oates song:
According to Daryl Hall, when Jackson was recording “We Are the World,” Jackson approached him and admitted to lifting the bass line for "Billie Jean" from a Hall and Oates song (apparently referring to Hall’s "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" from the 1981 album Private Eyes): "Michael Jackson once said directly to me that he hoped I didn't mind that he copped that groove."
Of course, the really amusing part? Hall responded to Jackson... by telling him he had done the same thing himself to get that bassline in the first place! "It's something we all do," Hall later explained.

Indeed. And yet, under today's laws, it's still considered infringement, and we still hear people looking down on "remixing" or people who create works in this manner, by building on the works of others. And yet, this is one of the most successful pop songs of all time. And the bass was a big part of that. Elsewhere in the Wikipedia article, there's a discussion of how the producer of the song, Quincy Jones, hated the song, and specifically the bass line. Yet Jackson insisted that the bass line was the key to the song, and the two of them fought over it until Jackson won. And the bassline was completely copied.

It's stories like this that make us wonder how people can say with a straight face that copying something can't help to create something new.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:06pm

    Oh, man.

    Jackson got in on that one early, kicking off a whole line of samplers. Here's a list of others who have sampled this Hall and Oates track.

    And this trackis my favorite from that list.

    Related: the artist on the previous track also released this killer single which samples [dun dun dunnnnnn] MICHAEL JACKSON!

    Full circle! Art is fun!

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:08pm

     

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  3.  
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    daniel, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:35pm

    reply

    WRONG! Michael Jackson wrote Billie Jean while was travelling with his brothers, he yes always admitted that!

     

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  4.  
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    daniel, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:35pm

    reply

    WRONG! Michael Jackson wrote Billie Jean while was travelling with his brothers, he yes always admitted that!

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:36pm

    Mech v. Authorship?

    There is a difference though between playing something you've heard before (it's the bread and butter of blues) and taking the actual recording someone else made and splicing it into your own song. This difference is relevant in discussions of copyright.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:46pm

    That's what IP usually brings us, rehashes of rehashes. Then IP extremists complain about the Internet.

     

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  7.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:51pm

    Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    There is a difference though between playing something you've heard before (it's the bread and butter of blues) and taking the actual recording someone else made and splicing it into your own song.

    Splicing recordings into new songs is the bread and butter of countless genres today... There may be a technical and legal difference, but I don't think there is a moral or cultural one.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 8:47pm

    Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    You are correct, sorry Marcus! There is a huge difference between copying the "groove" in your own performance, and just lifting someone else's performance.

    Michael Jackson didn't pirate anything, he was just inspired by a bass line, and work from it with his own work.

     

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  9.  
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    Benjo (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 8:48pm

    Daryl Hall is a badass

    And so was MJ.

    I've had quite a few arguments over sampling / covering / "stealing" from other artists, and almost always at the end of the argument we both agree that little to no harm is ever done to the original artists. If anything, value is added.

     

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  10.  
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    Greevar (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:16pm

    This is so apt.

    When they copy, they justify it. When we copy, they vilify it.

     

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  11.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 10:24pm

    Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    I dare you to do that with any baseline today. Just take the baseline as is, play it in your own music, and try not to drown in the lawsuit.

     

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  12.  
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    Richard (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 1:20am

    Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    There is a difference though between playing something you've heard before (it's the bread and butter of blues) and taking the actual recording someone else made and splicing it into your own song.

    This difference is purely one of "sweat of the brow".

    This difference is relevant in discussions of copyright.

    No! it clearly isn't since sweat of the brow does not attract copyright.

     

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  13.  
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    Richard (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 1:31am

    Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    There is a huge difference between copying the "groove" in your own performance, and just lifting someone else's performance.

    Copyright law does not make that difference. Many artists have been successfully sued for "copying the groove" - George Harrison (My Sweet Lord) springs to mind immediately.

    In copyright law the creative element is the important part - not the purely mechanical process of playing the notes.

    What you are trying to do is to separate those who have the mechanical skill of playing from those who do not - however this was always an inappropriate distinction as there are great composers who never had the skill tho play (e.g. Berlioz) and in recent years technology has rendered the mechanical skills unnecessary.

    These days the chief virtue of the mechanical skills of playing music is in the pleasure it give the performer him/herself and the social interaction it creates in a live music setting.

     

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  14.  
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    Richard (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 2:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Just take the baseline as is, play it in your own music, and try not to drown in the lawsuit.

    Actually he'd probably get away with it 9 times out of 10 - mostly because his music is not very good and no one will notice it!

    However there is no guarantee - and that is the point.

     

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  15. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Дмитрий, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 3:47am

    технологии

    колесо изобретено давно и вообще не человеком ,а природой
    мы люди разумные с копировали и совершенствуем колесо и интернет и Wikipedi и авторов от природы которых нам подсказывают свыше.Я за авторство как подлинник (платформа),я за совершенствова&# 1085;ие как жизнь моя.

     

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  16.  
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    Kevin (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 5:23am

    Just imagine

    Can one imagine if the current ridiculous patent and copyright had existed when the first person made a brick and designed a house we would all be paying his/her ancestors and not be allowed to vary from the original design.
    Imagine if Mozart did what is done today. No orchestra would be allowed to stray from his original score and orchestra set up. And so on.
    The whole issue is just ridiculous.
    I'm still getting over the copyright owner of the Teddy Bear Song winning a case against Men At Work for using a part of the nursery song in Down Under. a part that no matter how often I listen I cannot identify that part.
    Copyright should only apply to the whole song and only the original arrangement.

     

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  17.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 5:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Just take the baseline as is, play it in your own music, and try not to drown in the lawsuit.
    Worked stunningly well for Vanilla Ice vs. Queen/Bowie's Under Pressure for example.

     

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  18.  
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    PaulT (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 6:18am

    Re: Oh, man.

    Nice list, though this will always be my favourite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08X5CVfL0bk

     

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  19.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    If you listen carefully, you'll notice that George Martin, when he produced The Beatles, often spliced bits of background/sweetener music into their songs. Not large amounts but enough the get the sound the Martin and the band wanted to get.

    And that in the days of open reel and tape!

     

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  20.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 8:15am

    Re: Just imagine

    Better yet try to imagine if patent law existed when the wheel was "invented". Or the plow. :-)

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 8:26am

    Re: Daryl Hall is a badass

    Especially in the case of The Verve and The Rolling Stones. The Verve lost the copyright of Bittersweet Symphony to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards over a 4 bar sample they used from a Stones song. The best part is, they actually had permission to use it. That's how ridiculous copyright is.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    "Copyright law does not make that difference. Many artists have been successfully sued for "copying the groove" - George Harrison (My Sweet Lord) springs to mind immediately."

    Again, that wasn't a copy of a groove, that was a copy of a song (chord progression, instrumentation, etc) A simple bass line, especially one that isn't particularly unique, isn't something that is going to stand up to much of copyright item in and of itself.

    In fact, I would say that for the general public, they would be entirely unable to pick out what would make those songs similar, which sums it up.

    " in recent years technology has rendered the mechanical skills unnecessary."

    The difference is that those without mechanical skills (Hi Marcus!) are using other people's performances as their own work. For me, that crosses a big line. If you like something, AT LEAST play it yourself, or hire someone to play it for you. Don't just copy someone else's performance. That is lazy as it comes.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 10:16am

    Re: reply

    Writing a song doesn't imply that you write the bassline at the same moment.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    If an artist isn't a little lazy then they're probably not very good.

     

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  25.  
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    Kingster (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    That was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Sweat of the brow isn't the issue, not in the least. It's a question of a completed copyright work.

    Taking a copyright work and using it without permission is against the law. It's also as lazy as fuck (right Marcus?). Anyone can do it.

    Hearing someone play a bass line, and then playing a similar progression yourself isn't in itself generally a violation of copyright alone. It tends to come as a combination of things.

    It's why 100 songs can have a similar bass line and not violate each other - but the one song that just takes a sample of another one would.

     

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  27.  
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    huntall, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Oh, man.

    Creepy: Hackers stole Michael Jackson music catalog of Sony’s servers

    http://huntall.com/creepy-hackers-stole-michael-jackson-music-catalog-sonys-servers

     

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  28.  
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    huntall, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 2:11pm

    JAy bob

    Creepy: Hackers stole Michael Jackson music catalog of Sony’s servers......

    http://huntall.com/creepy-hackers-stole-michael-jackson-music-catalog-sonys-servers

     

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  29.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    It's why 100 songs can have a similar bass line and not violate each other - but the one song that just takes a sample of another one would.

    Amazing that you recognize that situation, but don't realize how stupid and wrong it is.

     

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  30.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 2:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Copyright also covers derivative works.

    Your attempt to create a double standard here simply isn't consistent with the law, not even the 1812 version of the law.

    This is an important issue for "fair use" and is what makes the Copyleft licenses of Free Software work.

     

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  31.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 10th, 2012 @ 2:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Anyone can do it.

    Okay: release an album as successful as something by Dangermouse or Girl Talk. I'll wait here. GO!

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 4:13pm

    Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Copy and pasting MIDI arrangements and editing them are not creative process?

    Like photo editing?

    A musician should build his own instrument and not use the knowledge and skill of others to make his music then? Should all musicians pay the makers of their instruments everytime they make a dime? Maybe a levy on music should be done by the instruments manufacturers since those instruments are essential for the creation of music, without them music would just not sound the same.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Except cutting and pasting music is not taking an entire copyright body of work.

    Is more like taking bits and pieces from something and making something new.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 4:18pm

    Re: JAy bob

    You mean they stole Sony's music, Michael created those but is not his anymore :)

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 4:46pm

    give me a break

    enough with the pro-piracy nonsense. While MJ and many other artists take bits and pieces from others works, they turn it into something distinctively their own. MJ's music is clearly his own distinct style. On the other hand, completely copying works in their entirety is a whole other matter, stop trying to morally justify your blatant theft.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 5:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Seriously, take an art class or an art history class or read about art or art history. You just might learn how art actually works.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 5:01pm

    Re: give me a break

    You spelled copyright infringement wrong.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 5:32pm

    Re: give me a break

    Are you serious? There are quite a few bands/musician's that have been sued for copyrights when they sampled and made something distinctly their own.

    I think one of the first cases was U2 vs. Negitivland. It's ok for a band with a label that has deep pockets and an army of lawyers. It's not ok for a small independent band. That's the only difference.

    Rock'n roll wouldn't exist without using southern blues - and often, a complete song, melody, harmony with a change of instrumentation and tempo, The Rolling Stones early recordings as an example.

    "Good artist's copy, GREAT artist's steal" -- Picasso and Steve Jobs

    Creativity does not exist in a vaccum.

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 5:35pm

    Wikipedia to the rescue

    I looked through the wikipedia article and could not find the quote mentioned. Was it removed?

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2012 @ 4:15pm

    Maybe that's why the RIAA had him killed.

     

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  41.  
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    The Moondoggie, Mar 11th, 2012 @ 6:45pm

    Re:

    *GASP*

    It all fits! RIAA probably had wanted MJ to retire permanently to create an artificial scarcity of his works. But MJ wasn't about to have that and on the month of the holiest comebacks ever, RIAA had a spy slip something with his meds.

    KILL EVERYONE IN RIAA! EVEN THE JANITOR!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    The Moondoggie, Mar 11th, 2012 @ 6:47pm

    Re:

    *GASP*

    It all fits! RIAA probably had wanted MJ to retire permanently to create an artificial scarcity of his works. But MJ wasn't about to have that and on the month of the holiest comebacks ever, RIAA had a spy slip something with his meds.

    KILL EVERYONE IN RIAA! EVEN THE JANITOR!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    indieThing, Mar 12th, 2012 @ 2:26am

    Re: технологии

    Why are people reporting these Russian comments ? There is no spam or offensive material in them, they are actually valid comments if you take the time to translate them.

    Or does everyone assume that because it's not in English they must be spam ?

     

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  44.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 12th, 2012 @ 4:39am

    Re: Re: технологии

    I'm Brazilian and I'm commenting in English out of respect for the international aspect of TD. He could do the same.

     

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  45.  
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    Steve, Mar 12th, 2012 @ 6:53am

    Re: Re: Mech v. Authorship?

    Ok, if that's the case, please explain?

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2012 @ 10:56am

    What an alarmist headline. Even considering the content of the article, Jackson would not have been considered a pirate, since I have rarely heard of sample-based artists being referred to as such. On top of that, it's not a sample. He replayed and re-recorded the bass line so it's not a remix. (Also, when did MJ become a mix engineer? Did he know how to use a compressor? I seem to remember him as a performer, not the guy behind the console.)

    So basically we have "NEWSFLASH: Michael Jackson was influenced by something." I guess that doesn't reel in the views, though.

    Listening to tech blogs mischaracterize music... must be as annoying as listening to label employees talk about technology.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    The Moondoggie, Mar 12th, 2012 @ 7:43pm

    Re: Re: технологии

    No. He should try and learn english. We don't know what he is talking about and Google Translate sucks cock.

    This is how his post looks like through Google translate:

    "invented the wheel for a long time, and no man, and nature
    we are people with a reasonable copying and improving the wheel and the Internet and Wikipedi and authors on the nature of which we suggest svyshe.Ya for authorship as the original (platform), I like to improve my life."

     

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  48.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 13th, 2012 @ 6:07am

    Re: Re: JAy bob

    Liar! Zombie MJ is so totally out there, anyone who watches the 'Thriller' music video could tell you it wasn't just dancing, it was practice.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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