50 Cent Sued Over Infringing Sample; When Will Hip-Hop's Stars Speak Up About Copyright?

from the now-would-be-a-good-time dept

The folks at dajaz1, who know better than anyone how copyright stifles culture and free speech, send in the news that Robert Poindexter of The Persuaders is suing 50 Cent for copyright infringement over a sample on a free album he released in 2009. This is likely to end in settlement, with a payout to Poindexter, because 50 Cent isn't offering any defense beyond the fact that the album was free. Unfortunately, this carries little to no legal weight. The courts have been unkind to sampled music over the years, as detailed in the excerpt we posted (part 1 and part 2) from this month's book club feature, Copyfraud. But, as dajaz1 explains quite clearly, sampling and remixing on free albums and mixtapes has always been an essential part of hip-hop, and is even embraced by labels:
This has been happening for many years on mixtapes and it’s quite common so 50′s attitude on this not shocking. Its the same attitude of every artist in urban music and it’s been like that from jump. In fact that’s why mixtapes are given away for free and not sold commercially. To put a bar code on a tape or sell it commercially violates many laws, but to give it away for free under the guise of “promotional use” has been the name of the game for decades and largely considered ok. This type of stuff is why these labels suddenly calling websites like us “rogue” for releasing them or trying to shut people down or put them in jail for making, releasing, or offering them for download has always been ridiculous. The attitude 50 is taking here is the same one every urban artist operates under and the promotional department of the major labels have been looking the other way on for years. Hell the major labels have been active participants. If you can’t clear the song you throw it out on a mixtape, or for free to radio mixshows and the blogs/internet as a freestyle/remix. Every major label artist that has made it in the rap genre has utilized these tactics so a loss in this case could be devastating not only to rap as a genre but the labels as well.

This is just another example of how copyright is totally out of sync with reality. This kind of activity is indispensable to culture, and it doesn't stop no matter what the law says—but it does get stifled, and driven underground, which is the opposite of what copyright is supposed to accomplish. As the chapter we posted from Copyfraud notes, several albums that are widely considered to be classics and important moments in music history (like Paul's Boutique or It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back) would be almost impossible to legally release today. Meanwhile, highly acclaimed mashups like The Grey Album are praised by the musicians whose work has been mashed, but are technically illegal and exist only as bootlegs by the grace (read: fear of bad publicity) of the record labels.

The big question is: can artists like 50 Cent do something about this? Hip-hop is one of the most popular and influential genres of music in the world, and its superstars command huge audiences. Most hip-hop fans don't realize that the genre is a legal minefield that exists because most artists cross their fingers and ignore the law entirely, while a rich few pay obscene royalties and settlement fees. Someone like 50 Cent is in the perfect position to raise more awareness of broken copyright law, and I hope that this attack on the lifeblood of hip-hop culture spurs him to do so.

Filed Under: 50 cent, book club, copyfraud, dajaz1, mixtape, sampling


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  1. icon
    Ophelia Millais (profile), 24 Apr 2012 @ 5:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    If 50 Cent asking nicely and enclosing a check for a few thousand would've resulted in a license to use the sample, then why is there a lawsuit? The parties are certainly free to broker such a deal on their own, even right now. Clearly, Mr. Poindexter would never have accepted such an offer. He would've held the sample for a fat ransom, especially knowing it was millionaire 50 Cent who wanted to use it. So if, by your moral compass, 50 had done the "right" thing and asked permission, the answer would've been either a loud "hell no," or, as evident by Poindexter's reaction, "sure, you can have the sample, as long as you give me a cool million, rich guy, because I haven't had a hit production in 39 years, and I don't intend to start working for a living now. You just did the work for me. Thanks, sucka!"

    The Roots would like to be able to play 20 seconds of "Johnny B. Goode" on late-night TV when certain guests walk on the set, but they can't, because Chuck Berry won't clear it for less than $2 million. Consequently, you do not hear that song, ever. In fact, the last place I think I heard it was in Back to the Future, in 1985. Like Poindexter, Berry can say it's legally his prerogative to treat his music like a reusable lottery ticket, but it doesn't make him any less of a dick.

    You are a fool if you think the asking price for a Persuaders sample would have been less than the cost of a settlement in a copyright infringement lawsuit, especially if it was 50 Cent doing the asking. 50 Cent made a business decision: ask and be charged millions, or don't ask, and either never have to pay anything, or at worst, settle for a few hundred grand? I guarantee you he is not being blindsided by this lawsuit.

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