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Mar 12, 2009 | Comments

In part 1, I reviewed sampled music’s legal issues (precedent in 90s) and history (birth in 80s).

Sampling occurs throughout history. Owen Gallagher cites the anagram as the first remix, “in art, the obvious one is collage. Folk music was spread by word of mouth…one person…would often apply their own variations to it.” Owen also mentions film in the 1920s, where recuts and remixes existed since the birth of editing. Faris Yakob, an authority on the remix, believes this prevalence throughout history is no coincidence, “I believe that culture is recombinant. I believe that ideas are new combinations.”

The big difference today, however, is how much easier it is. Consider the difficulty DJ Kool Herc faced when attempting to find and sample Apache, or the hardships encountered by artists sued for licensing fees. Comparatively, the Internet has destroyed the barriers to combine disparate ideas and rehash content.

Sampled content has proliferated on the Internet, be it an application via Twitter’s API or a stellar dance performance of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” A few examples represent this trend:

  • Girl Talk — the NY Times writes that Girl Talk is “a lawsuit waiting to happen.” Girl Talk, the stage name of Gregg Gillis, is a biologist by day, DJ by night. He music is a hyper-sample, clipping several samples from songs and compiling them into a complete 3-minute remix. His latest album was Time’s top 10 of 2008 and Blender’s 2nd place. Why hasn’t Girl Talk been sued? He doesn’t “sell” his sample-created music–everything is free online (via a “choose your own price” model). The record companies have yet to approach him for copyright infringement.
  • The Grey Album — Danger Mouse, member of Gnarls Barkley and DJ extraordinaire, created the Grey Album in 2004, a combination of the Beatles’ The White Album and Jay Z’s The Black Album. The legal experience was the opposite of Girl Talk’s: EMI, owner of the Beatles’ music rights, demanded that Danger Mouse halt all distribution of The Grey Album. Danger Mouse did not receive permission from EMI or Jay-Z (though Jay-Z released the album a-capella, tacitly sanctioning mash-ups and remixes).
  • Creative Commons — Traditional copyright concerns the protection of every artist’s right–the famous “all rights reserved.” Founded by a law professor, The Creative Commons provides a method for artists to reserve only some rights, allowing others to create derivative works–to co-author and to co-create. This is exactly what Jay-Z intended for the a-capella version of the Black Album. If Jay-Z were to license his work through the Creative Commons, he could expressly sanction the remix of his album for commercial and non-commercial purposes–exactly what Danger Mouse did.
  • APIs — In my opinion, the API represents the convergence of sampling, remixing, and co-creative forces (with marketers are beginning to notice). if you’ve ever used a Twitter App or tinkered with a Google Maps mashup, you’re interacting with an Application Program Interface (API). Without getting too technical, APIs allow people to request information from a website. In Twitter, it could be a user’s last 10 tweets, or on Yelp, the top reviews for Per Se. APIs have increased in popularity with the success of collaboration in ways unimaginable, mashing code and data from a variety of web services. Just recently, UK newspaper the Guardian created an API to give access to every article published since 1999.

To quote Feris again, “As technology develops, the scope of what can be remixed has developed alongside it.” Technology will continue to democratize barriers, and I can guarantee that it’s only a matter of time before every company is clamoring for a remix, rehash, or sample of their brand or content.

In short, will the API be the new “social media” wagon in 5 years? Will every brand’s webpage have a Creative Commons license? If history repeats itself, I’d emphatically agree.

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  1. syalam

    NYTimes is pretty savvy when it comes to an open-API. They allow you to get any article ever published on their website dating back like 20 yrs or so. I believe if the newspaper industry wants to survive (so many have gone bankrupt because advertising isn't sustainable anymore), they need to find new ways to bring users, and drive engagement.

  2. Completely agree. It's probably why they held a meeting in NY for developers to think of cool things to do with their API. I've yet to see anything interesting, however.

  3. Completely agree. It's probably why they held a meeting in NY for developers to think of cool things to do with their API. I've yet to see anything interesting, however.

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