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  • Can you own a sound? Go inside the clash between sampling culture and intellectual property law.

    Can you own a sound? Go inside the clash between sampling culture and intellectual property law.

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  • "What the photographer is to the painter is what the modern producer is to the instrumentalist."

    "What the photographer is to the painter is what the modern producer is to the instrumentalist."

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  • "They say I’m the world’s number one sampledest drummer. I haven’t got a penny for it yet though."

    "They say I’m the world’s number one sampledest drummer. I haven’t got a penny for it yet though."

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  • "You can’t put soul in a bottle. You can’t quantify soul by a person who’s just got a briefcase."

    "You can’t put soul in a bottle. You can’t quantify soul by a person who’s just got a briefcase."

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  • DJ Qbert

    DJ Qbert

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  • Chuck D of Public Enemy

    Chuck D of Public Enemy

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  • Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy

    Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy

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  • Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys, Invisibl Skratch Piklz) at a performance in Atlanta, Ga

    Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys, Invisibl Skratch Piklz) at a performance in Atlanta, Ga

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  • Clyde Stubblefield, perhaps the world’s most sampled drummer

    Clyde Stubblefield, perhaps the world’s most sampled drummer

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  • De La Soul

    De La Soul

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  • Pete Rock, considered one of the best and most influential producers in hip-hop

    Pete Rock, considered one of the best and most influential producers in hip-hop

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  • Kembrew McLeod, executive producer, writer and music supervisor; and Benjamin Franzen, director, editor, and photography

    Kembrew McLeod, executive producer, writer and music supervisor; and Benjamin Franzen, director, editor, and photography

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The Film

Long before people began posting their homemade video mashups on the Web, hip-hop musicians were perfecting the art of audio montage through sampling. Sampling — or riffing — is as old as music itself, but new technologies developed in the 1980s and 1990s made it easier to reuse existing sound recordings. Acts like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and the Beastie Boys created complex rhythms, references, and nuanced layers of original and appropriated sound. But by the early 1990s, sampling had collided with the law. When recording industry lawyers got involved, what was once called “borrowed melody” became “copyright infringement.”

Copyright Criminals examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and money. The film showcases many of hip-hop music’s founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital Underground, as well as emerging artists such as audiovisual remixers Eclectic Method. It also provides first-person interviews with artists who have been sampled, such as Clyde Stubblefield — James Brown’s drummer and the world’s most sampled musician — and commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend George Clinton.

Computers, mobile phones, and other interactive technologies are changing our relationships with media, blurring the line between producer and consumer and radically changing what it means to be creative. As artists find more inventive ways to insert old influences into new material, Copyright Criminals poses the question: Can you own a sound?

The Filmmakers

  1. Benjamin FranzenProducer/Director
  2. Kembrew McLeodExecutive Producer