I don’t often give book recommendations here at The Contrarian — that’s our resident Library Scientist‘s job. But I’m making an exception for Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling, which is a must-read for anyone interested in the copyfights, hip-hop, sound collage, and yes, intellectual property law.
Creative License features interviews with more than 100 stakeholders in the sampling community — from David Byrne, Cee-Lo Green, George Clinton, De La Soul, DJ Premier, DJ Qbert, Eclectic Method, El-P, Girl Talk, Matmos, Mix Master Mike, Negativland, Public Enemy, RZA, Clyde Stubblefield and T.S. Monk — and puts digital sampling into an historical, cultural and legal context.
My endorsement is in no way, shape or form due to the fact that I’m thanked in the introduction. It’s a straight-up awesome book.
Authors Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola take a daunting subject and make it incredibly relevant (and readable) for music fans who may not realize how the laws around sampling affect what we’re permitted to hear.
Creative License describes hip-hop during its sample-heavy golden age in the 1980s and early 1990s and the lawsuits that shaped U.S. copyright law on sampling. It also lays bare the labyrinthine licensing process that musicians must now navigate in order to express themselves in this art form. Observing that the same dynamics creating problems for remixers now reverberate throughout all culture industries, the authors conclude by examining ideas for reform.
The scope of questions asked by McLeod and DiCola are fascinating: How did the Depression-era folk-song collector Alan Lomax end up with a songwriting credit on Jay-Z’s song “Takeover?” Why doesn’t Clyde Stubblefield, the primary drummer on James Brown recordings from the late 1960s like “Funky Drummer” and “Cold Sweat,” get paid for other musicians’ frequent use of the beats he performed on those songs? The answers are even more fascinating.
I’m psyched to be participating in two stops of the book tour for Creative License, both of which take place in DC this week.
On Friday, I’ll be joining co-author Peter DiCola at American University for a lecture and a panel discussion:
Friday, April 15, 4:00-6:00 pm in Washington, DC
American University, Washington College of Law
Open reception + lecture/panel discussion, sponsored by the Copyright Society, the Glushko Samuelson Clinic, and the Center for Social Media. Following DiCola’s lecture and multimedia presentation, Professor Peter Jaszi, Jay Rosenthal of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and yours truly will join in the conversation with comments. The event begins with drinks and appetizers at 4:00 PM and is scheduled to end at 6:00 PM. A live webcast will also be available via WCL website. More details and RSVP
The next day, I’ll be leading a Q&A with Peter and moderating the panel discussion at this event:
Saturday, April 16, 5:30-7:00 pm in Washington, DC
Words Beats & Life and FMC present Peter DiCola with Producer/DJ Roddy Rod at Busboys and Poets at 14th & V St NW.
Peter and Kembrew have other stops in other cities; you can see the full list here.
Don’t be illin’ cuz I’m not shillin.’ Don’t believe me? Here’s Chuck D:
The fact that a seemingly simplistic artistic notion — of collecting, meshing, and arranging previously recorded sounds — would eventually result in a sharp and comprehensive book is mind boggling. This study is a work of art in itself, so solid that it may leave no other choice but to be sampled as well.