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
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 23 Apr 2012 @ 8:46pm


    75% at least of sampling is acquiring someone else's cool vibe to add cool to your own music.

    I think most music critics and experts would argue that well over 75% of all music is entirely derivative, borrowing someone else's "cool" whether consciously or otherwise. I don't really see what that has to do with anything. And if you're a fan of sample-based music, you obviously know that a lot of it (I hesitate to choose a percent) is also extremely original and awesome and completely transforms the samples into a new and valuable artistic work.

    It's pretty easy though to clear samples these days

    Why do people keep saying this and ignoring the multiple examples I've presented to the contrary? Both older albums that would be impossibly expensive to release today, and modern albums that exist only as bootlegs because the artists cannot clear them. Besides, go look at any discussion about sampling on any producer forum or blog and the theme is clear: it's a pain in the ass. Sorry, the assertion that it's "pretty easy" just doesn't hold any water.

    And the bigger artists (like 50 Cent, Kanye West) would actually be paying back to the people who broke ground for them. The black artists who never had the opportunity to earn enough income to install diamond encrusted toilet seats in their Beverly Hills mansion.
    So this is it? We hate copyright so much we happily stomp on the poorly paid innovators from our past?

    Look, I know some artists have been screwed over in the history of music. And I want to see them rewarded. But I don't think we should have prohibitive laws that stifle culture just to make up for one era of particularly egregious behaviour in the music industry the past. Besides, copyright should not last as long as it does anyway - so whether they are got screwed or not, it is well past the point where they still deserve monopolies on their work. If such monopolies were absolute, this renewed economic and cultural usage of their work through a new artist would never have happened - and they still wouldn't be making any money. So what good would that do?

    Copyright has to be designed to accomodate the cultural possibilities of the present and future, not to correct the cultural mistakes of the past.

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