Masnick: Time To Remix Copyright Law: The Hip Hop Case Study

by Stephan Kinsella on November 9, 2010

By Mike Masnick from TechDirt:

Time To Remix Copyright Law: The Hip Hop Case Study

from the it’s-how-music-is-made dept

Michael Scott points us to an interesting paper by a law professor, Tonya Evans, talking about how poorly copyright law is designed to handle a concept like hip hop. Of course, this is an issue that we (and plenty of others) have covered for years — noting how copyright law has drastically hindered certain aspects of hip hop music, once the lawyers started accusing samplers of infringement, and some courts suggested that using just a tiny snippet of a song, and even changing it so the original was unrecognizable, still constituted copyright infringement. From the abstract:

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My friend and TLS co-blogger Rob Wicks says regarding this post:

I’ve been thinking about this a bit. Copyright law basically killed traditional hip hop. Traditional hip hop was built on sampling, and consisted of both singing and rapping. You still get a few big acts with major money behind them who can do things, but the entire development of hip hop as an art form has been completely warped by IP. You can still get traditional hip-hop, and it has evolved over the years, but you have to get mixtapes, which are generally released free to the streets. But the stuff which gets all the press and which inspires the virulent reaction (because of the large gangsta/antisocial element) is almost entirely a creation of large corporations leveraging IP.

Exactly. Just like state regulations distort the catallactic market, IP law distorts the culture. For example it has caused fashion designers to incorporate their trademarked logos in their products as part of the design, since there is no IP in fashion so they incorporated the trademark. Would this phenomenon exist without IP? Omega put a copyrighted globe logo on their watches to stop arbitrary importing. HP puts needless patented circuits in their cartridges to leverage patent law to stop competition. (See my post Leveraging IP for more on this.) And maybe there are forms of music that never existed, or that are marginalzed, such as hip hop, and other forms of art including film and photography and documentaries and collages and painting, that would otherwise have relied on some kind of “sampling,” that never got off the ground b/c of threat of copyright law. The seen and the unseen.

Rob’s reply to this: “Yes, and then people look to counteract those distortions by censoring music, establishing age requirements, etc.”

Update: See Everything is a Remix Part 4

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