Professor Evans’ article Sampling, Looping & Mashing … OH MY! How Hip-Hop is Scratching More Than the Surface of Copyright Law was recently published by the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. Use the link below to download the PDF.
For decades hip hop producers have relied on the innovative use of existing recordings (most of which are protected by copyright), to create completely new works. Specifically, cuttin’ and scratchin’, digital sampling, looping and (most recently) mashing are all methods of creating music and are all integral parts of the hip hop music aesthetic. Collectively these creative processes are the hallmark of the type of innovation and creativity born out of the hip hop music tradition.
Hip hop artists and producers from Chuck D, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest and M.C. Lyte to The RZA, Missy Elliott, Dangermouse and Jay Z have employed the sampler more as a musical instrument or palette than a tool of expediency or theft. But when done without the permission of the borrowed work’s copyright holder, sampling is at odds with copyright law. Unfortunately, copyright fails to acknowledge the historical role, informal norms and value of borrowing, cumulative creation and citation in music.
Additionally, different copyright infringement standards are applied to the two types of music copyright (the musical composition and sound recording). Further, and arguably more troubling, different infringement standards are being applied by the circuits to sound recording infringement cases resulting in a split in the circuits. The per se infringement rule articulated in the leading digital sampling case, Bridgeport v. Dimension Films, as compared to a recent decision with analogous facts but an opposite outcome under a traditional infringement analysis in Saregama India Ltd. v.Mosley, is but one stark example.
This article examines the impact of copyright law on music creation both historically and currently. It highlights hip hop music as an example of a genre significantly and negatively impacted by 1) the per se infringement rule applied in some instances to cases involving unauthorized sampling of sound recordings; and 2) traditional (and arguably erroneous) assumptions in copyright law and policy of independent creation and Romantic authorship.